OSA Risk Is Reduced With Increased Physical Activity

Increasing physical activity may lower the risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), according to results of a new study.1

“The rates of sleep apnea in children and adults are continuing to rise. Therefore, understanding the role of modifiable protective factors for sleep apnea is important,” senior author Lyle Palmer, PhD, said in a press release.2 “Exercise is one such protective factor and has many other positive effects on general health. Sleep health care professionals should be trying to get their patients to exercise more.”

To reach their conclusion, the researchers assessed the lifestyle, medical, sociodemographic, and sleep health data that had been collected from 155,448 adults participating in the Ontario Health Study. 

Of these adults, 39.8% were men and 60.2% were women. Overall, 6.9% of the respondents had been diagnosed with OSA. Those with OSA were more sedentary than their counterparts without OSA, sitting for a median 4.4 hours more per week.2

After adjusting for potential confounding factors, total physical activity (metabolic equivalent of task hours per week), vigorous-intensity activity, and walking were all associated with decreased prevalence of OSA. 

In fact, based on the physical activity of participants with and without OSA, the researchers determined that a modest increase in physical activity is associated with a 10% reduction in OSA risk.2 And this reduction in OSA risk can be achieved by adding 20 minutes to a daily walk or increasing vigorous daily activity by 8 minutes.2 

According to the researchers, the findings are independent of other known OSA risk factors, such as gender, age, ethnicity, and obesity.

“Our results highlight the importance of physical activity as a preventive measure against developing sleep apnea,” Dr Palmer said in the press release.2 “One surprising finding was that not only vigorous physical activity, but also just walking alone was associated with a decreased risk of sleep apnea.”

Moderate-intensity activity was not associated with OSA risk, according to the researchers.

—Colleen Murphy


  1. Hall KA, Singh M, Mukherjee S, Palmer LJ. Physical activity is associated with reduced prevalence of self-reported obstructive sleep apnea in a large, general population cohort study. J Clin Sleep Med. Published online April 6, 2020. doi:10.5664/jcsm.8456
  2. Study links increased exercise with lower sleep apnea risk. News release. American Academy of Sleep Medicine; June 23, 2020. Accessed June 24, 2020.