Study objectives: To evaluate the efficacy of a 12-week exercise training program for reducing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) severity and improving sleep quality, and to explore possible mechanisms by which exercise may reduce OSA severity.
Design: Randomized controlled trial.
Setting: Clinical exercise physiology center, sleep laboratory.
Participants: Forty-three sedentary and overweight/obese adults aged 18-55 years with at least moderate-severity untreated OSA (screening apnea-hypopnea index [AHI] ≥ 15).
Interventions: Participants randomized to exercise training (n = 27) met 4 times/week for 12 weeks and performed 150 min/week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, followed by resistance training twice/week. Participants randomized to a stretching control (n = 16) met twice weekly for 12 weeks to perform low-intensity exercises designed to increase whole-body flexibility.
Measurements and results: OSA severity was assessed with one night of laboratory polysomnography (PSG) before and following the 12-week intervention. Measures of sleep quality included PSG, actigraphy (7-10 days), and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. Compared with stretching, exercise resulted in a significant AHI reduction (exercise: 32.2 ± 5.6 to 24.6 ± 4.4, stretching: 24.4 ± 5.6 to 28.9 ± 6.4; P < 0.01) as well as significant changes in oxygen desaturation index (ODI; P = 0.03) and stage N3 sleep (P = 0.03). Reductions in AHI and ODI were achieved without a significant decrease in body weight. Improvements in actigraphic sleep and subjective sleep quality were also noted following exercise compared with stretching.
Conclusions: Exercise training had moderate treatment efficacy for the reduction of AHI in sedentary overweight/obese adults, which suggests that exercise may be beneficial for the management of OSA beyond simply facilitating weight loss.
Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov identification number NCT00956423.
Keywords: Actigraphy; exercise training; obstructive sleep apnea; polysomnography; randomized controlled trial; sleep quality.