Losing weight through a combination of diet and exercise can have long-term health benefits for those with sleep apnea, including preventing the progress of the condition and possibly lowering the risks of some severe health problems associated with sleep apnea, according to a recent study.
Nearly 20 million Americans are thought to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which a person’s breathing stops repeatedly during sleep and which has been linked to a heightened risk for heart attack, hypertension and stroke. Sleep apnea is especially common among the obese, and a four-year study in Finland focused on obese adults with mild sleep apnea and the effects of lifestyle counseling, and dietary and fitness changes.
In the initial stages of the study, researchers separated 81 obese adults with sleep apnea into two groups: the first group underwent lifestyle counseling, exercised regularly and switched to a low-calorie diet; the second group was given general diet and physical activity information.
The study demonstrated clear health benefits in those who received the lifestyle intervention. The question was, Would the effects last?
After four years, researchers followed up with 57 participants from the two groups. Those in the intervention group were mostly successful in maintaining their weight-loss while most of those in the comparison group had gained some weight.
Furthermore, none of the intervention group’s participants had seen their sleep apnea progress to a severe form of the condition. Twelve participants of the control group went from mild to moderate sleep apnea, while two developed severe sleep apnea.
Obesity is one of the main risk factors for OSA and other forms of sleep apnea, and those who are both overweight and suffer from sleep apnea face an increased risk for diabetes. The findings of this and other recent studies indicate that the sooner people are diagnosed with sleep apnea and make lifestyle changes accompanied by sleep apnea treatment, the better the chance for preventing the progression of sleep apnea and its accompanying health hazards.