Exercise, Diet May Keep Sleep Apnea From Worsening

April 19, 2013

Last Updated: 2013-04-18 18:05:03 -0400 (Reuters Health)

By Genevra Pittman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Losing weight through exercise and healthier eating may have long-term benefits for people with mild sleep apnea, a new study suggests.

Sleep apnea was about half as likely to progress to more severe disease in obese patients who went through a one-year lifestyle intervention, compared to those who received little extra help.

"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," said Dr. Henri Tuomilehto, who led the study at the Oivauni Sleep Clinic in Kuopio, Finland.

"With these results, we can say that if we change our lifestyle... we really can stop the progression of sleep apnea," he told Reuters Health. But, "Nobody has really paid any attention to preventing the progression."

Dr. Tuomilehto and his colleagues 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.

The initial results from that study, reported several years ago, showed health benefits tied to the intervention, Dr. Tuomilehto said. But whether the effects would persist after the program had ended was unclear.

For the new analysis, the researchers contact 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. They were 12 pounds lighter than they had been five years earlier, on average, while people in the control group were about one pound heavier.

Six patients in the intervention group had progressed to moderate sleep apnea, and none had developed severe disease. On the other hand, 12 members of the control group had moderate sleep apnea at their follow-up and two had severe sleep apnea, the study team wrote April 15th in JAMA Internal Medicine.

"If you've lost some weight, four years later, even if you've regained some, there's still some significant benefit in terms of your apnea," said Dr. Gary Foster, head of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Dr. Foster, who did not work on the new study, said that finding is consistent with his own research in a larger group of patients with both sleep apnea and diabetes.

"Obesity is the single most potent modifiable risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea," he told Reuters Health.

"We should really think about weight reduction as a treatment for sleep apnea," Dr. Tuomilehto agreed.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/ZmMHtN
JAMA Intern Med 2013.
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