Study links an active lifestyle to a reduced risk of obstructive sleep apnea

Two women walk outside while wearing protective masks

Moving more and sitting less is linked to a lower risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), according to a study published in the European Respiratory Journal.  

Staying active throughout life is associated with a range of health benefits, including reducing the risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, and this study, based on data shared by more than 130,000 health care professionals, adds further evidence to the benefits of regular movement.

To start this review, researchers analyzed data collected from three longitudinal health studies: the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. In each study, participants shared information every two to four years about how much weekly exercise they got, how much time they spent watching television or sitting down, and if they had been diagnosed with OSA. After the researchers assessed the final data, which equated to 2,004,663 years of analysis, they confirmed 8,733 OSA incidents.  

Overall, the researchers found adults who were more active and spent less time watching television or sitting down were less likely to be diagnosed with OSA compared to adults who were the least active. The researchers suspect metabolic factors associated with physical activity, which supports a healthy body weight, waist circumference, insulin function, and reduces inflammation and fluid retention, may help explain these findings. They note future studies could explore these mechanisms and other factors, like the role watching television at night may have on disrupting circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. The research was supported by NHLBI and the National Cancer Institute.