Research Magazine 2006

Exercise, lose weight, sleep better

The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 12 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder during sleep. Many are overweight.

UT Arlington kinesiology researchers want to know if there’s a link.

During sleep apnea, breathing stops or becomes shallow, with each pause lasting maybe 20 seconds. These pauses can occur 20-30 times an hour, resulting in extremely fragmented sleep.

Untreated, the disorder can cause high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, memory problems, weight gain, impotency and headaches. It may be responsible for job impairment and vehicle accidents.

 “We are hoping to show that with just a 10- or 15-pound weight loss, many of these individuals would see a decreased risk for developing a pathological sleeping disorder such as sleep apnea,” said Jennifer Blevins, director of the University’s Exercise Science Research Lab. “Consequently, they could avoid necessary treatments such as CPAP devices or even surgery.” A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine delivers air at a prescribed pressure.

A study conducted through the lab examines individuals ages 20 to 60 who are 25-35 pounds overweight, exercise fewer than two days a week and are free of cardiovascular or metabolic disease. Some of the subjects have been diagnosed with sleep apnea; others are at a moderate to high risk of developing it.

The subjects experience two sessions of initial testing. The first evaluation tests for lung function and measures height, weight and circumference.

“In the second session, subjects are given a maximal exercise test on a treadmill and a portable sleep device for one night to record their sleep patterns, which indicates whether they’re at risk of developing sleep apnea,” said Stacey Lueking, Dr. Blevins’ graduate research assistant.

The subjects then go into control or treatment groups for six months. The treatment group has meal guidelines and undergoes monitored exercise in UT Arlington’s fitness center. The control group members maintain their regular diet, exercise and sleep patterns.

Lueking says those already diagnosed with sleep apnea and using a CPAP go into their own group to determine whether diet and exercise can alleviate the need to use the device.

Ultimately, the researchers hope the results will enable them to work with a physician to treat borderline individuals using only diet and exercise.

— Susan M. Slupecki