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Can Exercise Help Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?

January 20, 2021


We all know we are supposed to exercise for general health and mental well being. But are there some people that could benefit from exercise more than others? Today, we will examine the effects of exercise on patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). 

“Being overweight is a well-known risk factor for sleep apnea, and previous studies have shown that losing weight may improve the condition.” (WebMD)

Lack of exercise and poor diet leads to a person becoming overweight or obese. This is common knowledge, but the reason that weight can play a significant role in OSA is the pressure that the excess weight places on your organs, limiting your breathing. 

The Sleep Foundation reports that sleep apnea – even if caused by excess body weight – can increase body weight. Let’s pause on that for a second: sleep apnea can be caused by weight AND sleep apnea causes weight gain. That’s a vicious cycle. 

So, when you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, it’s essential to know a) what is causing your issue and b) whether weight loss could improve your quantity and quality of sleep. Our sleep studies lead to diagnoses and help our patients understand the best methods to treat their OSA, including relieving the symptoms. 

If the leading cause of your OSA is weight, then you probably want to know how much weight you need to lose, right? 

According to Dr. Christopher Kline, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human Development at the University of Pittsburgh, a patient who loses 10% of their body weight will increase their sleep quality by 25%. 

10% of your body weight is a lot to lose, so let’s look at the best ways to get it done. 

What Kind Of Exercise Is Best? 

There is no definitive answer to this question simply because the exercise you will stick to will be the best type of exercise for you. If you are a sedentary person, you could start an exercise regime by walking around the block and timing yourself.* Each day, aim for a better time until you feel ready to extend your walk. Keep timing yourself and extending the walk. The goal is to get to the point that could be considered “vigorous walking.” Added bonus: the fresh air will help you sleep and the walk often relieves stress, which also will help you sleep better.

“In addition to systemic clinical benefits provided by physical exercise, OSA patients involved in a regular, predominantly aerobic, exercise program have shown a reduction in disease severity and in daytime sleepiness, as well as an increase in sleep efficiency and in peak oxygen consumption, regardless of weight loss.” (National Institute Of Health)

Some of our patients find walking difficult due to joint issues, but swimming is a good exercise for those who need a lower impact form of exercise.* 

Would weight training help OSA? 

“We hypothesize that interventions increasing muscle strength might propagate to motor units at the abductor pharyngeal muscles, reducing collapsibility and, hence, sleep apnea severity in elderly patients with obstructive sleep apnea.” (National Institute Of Health)

Weight training will help significantly with weight loss. Ironically, many bodybuilders suffer from OSA as a result of the weight they carry in their neck, but if you are currently trying to start an exercise, it’s not likely that this should be a concern.* 

Exercise is hard to fit into a routine and even harder if you don’t find it fun. If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, find a form of exercise that you enjoy and make it a priority in your daily routine. If you are having trouble sleeping, but you’re not sure if it’s sleep apnea, get in touch with us today! We can help set up a sleep study or point you in the right direction for a physician’s referral. 

*Please consult with your doctor before undergoing a strenuous exercise regimen.

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