Sleep Apnea and Exercise: Can Exercise Improve Your Sleep Apnea?

sleep apnea exercise

Exercising is a great way to lose weight and brings systemic clinical benefits, but can it help people with obstructive sleep apnea? Let’s find it out.

One of the most common questions related to obstructive sleep apnea is whether exercising can help cure OSA or not. Sleep apnea is a potentially serious and common medical condition that can mess with a patient’s sleep.

If you’re suffering from this condition, you’d already know how frustrating it is to experience breathing pauses during sleep. It happens because of blocked or narrowed airways.

Using a CPAP device while sleeping is a standard treatment option that keeps your airway open while sleeping. However, many people find it irritating to sleep with masks on their faces. That’s where the role of exercise comes into play.

Exercise can help people reduce their weight, and according to studies, it helps with sleep apnea symptoms. According to an NCBI study, weight loss is a potential way to deal with both OSA and obesity. 

Another study suggests that losing weight can decrease your AHI (Apnea-Hypopnea Index) by 26 percent.

How Exercise Helps Sleep Apnea?

It’s still not clear why or how exercise reduces obstructive sleep apnea. However, the following theories are established to explain how it might work.

The Weight Loss Factor

Exercise helps you control and maintain a healthy weight to ensure better sleep, and it also alleviates the sleep apnea risk. According to a JAMA Internal Medicine study, obesity is by far the most critical risk factor of sleep apnea.

Many people don’t experience a significant bodyweight reduction just through exercise. However, the body composition changes as the muscle mass increases and body fat decreases.

Body fat reduction (especially abdominal fat) can help people with sleep apnea. That’s because the greater abdominal fat levels lead to shallow breathing patterns, which is the common symptom of OSA.

Reduces the Fluid Buildup

When you lie down for the night, the fluid from your legs moves to the upper chest and neck. It’s also known as rostral fluid shift, and it can make the upper airway more collapsible and smaller and increase the sleep apnea risk.

It’s especially true in people with heart and kidney issues and other problems with high fluid retention. Such medical conditions generate high fluid buildup quantities in the legs. Exercise can reduce the amount of this buildup.

Therefore, the rostral fluid shift also decreases and helps with sleep apnea symptoms. An NCBI study backs this theory and explains that aerobic exercise reduces the rostral fluid shift and decreases the sleep apnea severity.

The Connection Between Regular Exercise and Better Sleep

It’s a medical fact that exercising regularly brings therapeutic effects and promotes sleep. Not only does it help you have a sound night’s sleep, but it also brings a variety of other health benefits.

A poll by the National Sleep Foundation was conducted in 2013 to find the connection between sleep apnea and exercise.

The poll results show that 67 percent of the people with a regular exercise routine said that they sleep well at night and never or rarely experience difficulty in sleeping, insomnia, and other sleep-loss symptoms. These results explain a strong connection between exercise and good sleep.

If you find it difficult to exercise because of your busy schedule, consider starting with only a 10-minute walk. Later on, you can work your way out to start doing more intense exercises such as swimming, running, or cycling.

Can Exercises Help?

If you’re still trying to put off your exercise plan, consider following the tips listed below. It’ll make it easy for you to lose weight and sleep better.

Set Your Weight Goal

If you’re suffering from obesity, then the first step is to set a weight goal, but it must be realistic. Start with something doable and small like walking or running for a mile daily to lose just one pound a week.

Make Exercise Fun

Mental preparation is half the fight when it comes to incorporating exercise into your daily routine. It’s too easy to get off course if you’re just doing things you don’t enjoy.

Find something you like doing, whether it’s a sport, a bike ride, or even a walk with your dog in the park. Experiment with different options until you discover one that works for you.

Ask for Support

Assistance from your family members or friends as you embark on your exercising journey can also help. According to studies, having a supportive and helping spouse makes losing weight simpler.

Start with Easy Exercises

You don’t have to immediately participate in a marathon or a rigorous boot camp program. You simply need to just get started. Begin with something you know you can accomplish, such as going for a quick walk several times a day.

Make It Your Lifestyle

Small adjustments in your life can make it less intimidating to take on more intense activities. It includes going for a stroll at lunch or doing some type of exercise when you arrive home after work rather than immediately settling into the couch.

Maintaining A Healthy Diet is Also Important

Maintaining a nutritious diet allows you to maintain your weight and provides you with more energy to exercise regularly. Here are a few things that you can include in your diet.

  • Nuts: Nuts are full of healthy fats and high in protein that allows you to stave off hunger for a longer period of time.
  • Fruits: Fruits are a great source of important minerals and vitamins. Many fruits, especially bananas, can limit bloating and water retention.   
  • Yogurt: Yogurt is high in protein, and it’s an excellent option for snacking and breakfast. According to studies, it can also control your appetite.

The Bottom Line

Exercise won’t eliminate sleep apnea, but it can undoubtedly help with symptoms such as daytime sleepiness and interrupted sleep. Adhering to a specialized exercising plan can reduce the sleep apnea severity by roughly 25 percent.

That may not appear to be much, but even minor improvements in OSA can dramatically lower the likelihood of negative health outcomes. 

If you’re already on a strict diet plan or suffering from any medical condition, it’s important to consult with your doctor before making any lifestyle changes.




Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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