Increased physical activity associated with a low risk of sleep apnea


A study published online, as an accepted paper in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that increased physical activity is associated with a lower risk of obstructive sleep apnea, a common respiratory-related sleep disorder. The most significant study to date has focused on the relationship between sleep apnea and physical activity levels in the general community.

The researchers examined lifestyle, medical, socio-demographic and sleep health data collected from more than 155,000 adults participating in the Ontario Health Study. Based on the physical activity of participants with and without sleep apnea, the researchers determined that a modest increase in physical activity, including walking, was associated with a 10 percent reduction in the risk of develop sleep apnea.

Our results highlight the importance of physical activity as a preventive measure against the development of sleep apnea. A surprising finding is that not only vigorous physical activity but also simply walking alone has been associated with a reduced risk of sleep apnea. “

Lyle Palmer, Senior Author, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at the University of Adelaide, Australia

The authors found that adding 20 minutes to a daily walk and vigorously increasing daily activity by eight minutes would be enough to achieve a lower risk of sleep apnea. The result is independent of other known risk factors for sleep apnea such as gender, age, ethnicity and obesity.

It is estimated that more than 29 million American adults have sleep apnea, many of them undiagnosed. Untreated sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and other serious conditions.

“The rate of sleep apnea in children and adults is constantly increasing. Therefore, understanding the role of the changeable protective factors of sleep apnea is important, “said Palmer. “Exercise is one of these protective factors and has many other positive effects on general health. Sleep healthcare professionals should be trying to get their patients to do more exercise. ”

The cross-section, based on the study population, analyzed database questionnaire from 155,448 adult residents of Ontario, Canada (60% women and 40% men). Their average age was 46, and about 75% were Caucasian. About 6.9% of participants said they were told by a doctor that they have sleep apnea. Those with sleep apnea were more sedentary, sitting for an average of 4.4 hours more per week than those without sleep apnea.

Due to the cross-sectional nature of the study, the authors were unable to make temporal inferences about the associations observed between physical activity and sleep apnea. However, they report that previous studies have also suggested that physical activity can reduce the severity of sleep apnea.

In a comment, also published an article accepted in JCSMDr. Joyce Lee-Iannotti and Dr. James Parish write that the results of the study give doctors another sleep tool to treat mild to moderate sleep apnea that may be more appealing to patients.

The authors noted that the absence of conflicts of interest. The study was supported by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Cancer Care Ontario, Ontario Public Health, and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. The Ontario Health Study is part of the Canadian Hope Partnership for Tomorrow Project, which is made up of five regional health sciences across Canada.


The American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Reference journal:

Hall, K. A., et al. (2020), Physical Activity is Associated with a Reduction in the Prevalence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in a Large General Population Cohort Study. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.


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