Exercise, diet may keep sleep apnea from worsening

April 21, 2013 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Exercise, diet may keep sleep apnea from worsening

Losing weight through exercise and healthier eating may have long-term benefits for people with mild sleep apnea, a new Finnish study suggests.

Researchers found obese study participants who went through a one-year lifestyle intervention were about half as likely to see their sleep apnea progress to more severe disease, compared to those who received little extra help.

People who have sleep apnea stop breathing for short spurts when their airway collapses or gets blocked while they're asleep. The condition is most common among heavy, middle-aged adults and in its advanced form has been tied to a range of cardiovascular problems.

It usually takes at least a few years to progress from mild disease to the more severe disease, and mostly it's due to weight gain.

The researchers randomly assigned 81 obese adults with mild sleep apnea to a one-year intervention, which started with a very low-calorie meal plan and included diet and exercise counseling, or to a comparison group that received only a few general diet and physical activity information sessions.

That study initially showed health benefits tied to the intervention. But whether the effects would persist after the program had ended was unclear.

For the new analysis, the researchers followed up with 57 of the initial 81 participants, four years after the experiment was completed.

They found people in the exercise and diet group had generally succeeded in keeping some weight off. Those participants were 12 pounds lighter than they had been five years earlier, on average, and people in the comparison group were about one pound heavier.

Six participants in the intervention group had seen their mild sleep apnea progress to moderate disease, and none had developed severe disease. On the other hand, 12 members of the comparison group had moderate sleep apnea at their follow-up and two had severe sleep apnea.

Researcher say obesity is the single most potent modifiable risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea.

SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, online April 15, 2013.

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