New Study: Sleep Apnea Linked to Reduced Ability to Exercise Aerobically

Sleep apnea - Exercise Difficulty - Surgical Sleep Solutions

Researchers at University of California’s San Diego School of Medicine have found that people suffering from moderate to severe sleep apnea cannot breath as well during exercise as people who do not suffer from the sleep disorder.

Although sleep apnea and lack of aerobic fitness have also both been linked with obesity, researchers found that sleep apnea patients underperformed aerobically even in direct comparison with those with the same body mass index (BMI). This means that while patients with sleep apnea may not be exercising as much as others, there is also something else going on: the apnea itself is likely interfering with the body’s ability to uptake oxygen.

The study, which appears in the most recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, involved 34 people. Fifteen of the participants had moderate to severe sleep apnea while 19 had mild sleep apnea or no sleep apnea at all. After all 34 underwent an overnight sleep study in order to accurately determine the severity of their sleep disorder, each was asked to pedal a stationary bike to exhaustion. Scientists measured their resting metabolic rate as well as their VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen a person can breathe in during strenuous exercise.

The study found that those with more than mild sleep apnea had VO2 max 14 percent lower than people of the same age, gender, and BMI. The study also found that the more times a patient stopped breathing per hour during sleep due to sleep apnea could accurately predict how much lower a person’s VO2 max would be.

“Encouraging patients to exercise more is part of the story, but that is not the whole story,” said lead author Jeremy Beitler. “We believe the sleep apnea itself causes structural changes in muscle that contributes to their difficulty exercising.”

This is not the first time researchers have found that sleep apnea causes health problems in untreated patients. In fact, obstructive sleep apnea has been linked with diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The scientists involved in this study noted that low VO2 max readings are a predictor of both heart attack and stroke.

In addition, researchers noted that low VO2 max measurements could be a red flag for sleep apnea and may be a useful future tool for early intervention and treatment.

Read the full press release from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

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