According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, sleep apnea affects more than 18 million Americans. If untreated, the condition—which often affects overweight and obese individuals—can result in heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Recently, researchers learned that even a minimal amount of weight loss may prevent the progression of— or even cure—sleep apnea for the long term.

Published in Sleep Medicine (2014; doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2013.11.786), the study aimed to determine the impact of weight loss on sleep apnea outcomes after 5 years. The 57 participants had been involved in a 1-year trial focused on lifestyle improvements. Those who lost weight during this period were placed into a “successful” group, while those who did not lose weight were assigned to an “unsuccessful” control group. At the 5-year mark, the scientists determined changes based on the apnea- hypopnea index (AHI).

“At 5 years from the baseline, the change in AHI between the groups was significant in the successful group compared with the unsuccessful group,” the authors discovered. “Successful weight reduction achieved an 80% reduction in the incidence of progression of obstructive sleep apnea compared to the unsuccessful group.”

The authors concluded that a modest 5% sustained weight loss was enough to produce the positive outcomes.

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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