Does exercise prevent sleep apnoea?

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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23 August 2021

Does exercise prevent sleep apnoea?

Exercise can help to reduce inflammation, support insulin resistance and contributes to weight loss, three factors that play a part in the symptoms of sleep apnoea developing in the first place. Most forms of exercise can help prevent sleep apnoea but aerobic options like swimming and cycling are thought to be particularly helpful.

Key ways in which exercise can prevent sleep apnoea

An active lifestyle has been shown to benefit obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) whereby the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep. This can interrupt regular sleep and may increase the likelihood of developing additional conditions.

Less time sitting down and regular participation in aerobic activities that increase heart and breathing rate led to the following benefits:

  • Reduced severity of OSA
  • Reduction in daytime sleepiness
  • Increase in oxygen consumption
  • Improved ability to fall asleep at night. (1)

These improvements were seen regardless of the participants' weight, thus showing the universal benefits that exercise has to offer those with sleep apnoea.

Engaging in more movement, including less time watching television, has also been shown to reduce the risk of sleep apnoea in the first place. (2)

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How does exercise help sleep apnoea?

Exercise can have a positive effect on sleep apnoea because it contributes to weight loss when completed on a regular basis, and excess weight is known to be a big risk factor for developing the condition.

Physical activity also lowers inflammation and aids insulin resistance. These too can be key factors in the development of obstructive sleep apnoea.

On top of this, if there is too much fluid in the body it can press on the lungs to cause pressure and OSA. However, we know that regular movement throughout the day can reduce excess fluid retention in the body and therefore prevent OSA symptoms.

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What is the best exercise for sleep apnoea?

Adding more movement to your overall routine could improve and prevent symptoms of sleep apnoea. This could include switching sedentary activities like watching television to physical activities like walking, jogging and swimming.

If you can, aim to include aerobic activities at least twice a week, as research has highlighted that they can have a particularly positive influence on sleep apnoea. There are many aerobic activities to pick from, including cycling, exercise videos and exercise classes.

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