Exercise May Help Reduce Your Sleep Apnea Risk, Large Study Shows

Increasing your physical activities may help you avoid having a common sleep-related breathing disorder. Researchers have found that exercise, even as simple as walking regularly, could reduce the risk of developing sleep apnea.

The new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, is the largest to date focused on the link between physical activities and sleep apnea in the general community. It involved more than 155,000 adults in Canada. 

Nearly 6.9 percent of the participants reported having sleep apnea. Researchers also looked into their lifestyle, medical, socio-demographic and sleep health data. 

Those with the disorder appeared more sedentary, spending 4.4 more hours sitting per week compared to those without sleep apnea. After analyzing their lifestyle and other health data, researchers found that spending more time working out could help make people less likely to experience sleep apnea.

Those who added 20 minutes to a daily walk and did vigorous daily activity by eight more minutes achieved a lower sleep apnea risk. Walking alone helped reduce the risk by 10 percent. 

"Our results highlight the importance of physical activity as a preventive measure against developing sleep apnea," Lyle Palmer, senior study author and a professor of genetic epidemiology at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said in a statement. "One surprising finding was that not only vigorous physical activity but also just walking alone was associated with a decreased risk of sleep apnea."

Estimates show that more than 29 million adults in the U.S. have sleep apnea. If left untreated, the condition could contribute to other health problems, like heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

"The rates of sleep apnea in children and adults are continuing to rise. Therefore, understanding the role of modifiable protective factors for sleep apnea is important," Palmer said. "Exercise is one such protective factor and has many other positive effects on general health. Sleep health care professionals should be trying to get their patients to exercise more."

However, the researchers noted the study has limitations. The team was unable to make temporal inferences on the observed associations between physical activity and sleep apnea because of its cross-sectional nature. 

But earlier researchers provided similar findings that increased physical activity can reduce the severity of sleep apnea. Health experts said the latest study gives sleep physicians a new tool to manage mild to moderate sleep-related breathing disorder.

Exercise The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity, aerobic activity. Pixabay