Does Running Help Sleep Apnea?

Yes, running can help prevent or reduce symptoms of sleep apnea.

If you suffer from sleep apnea, you may be wondering if there is a way to improve your symptoms naturally. Could running be the answer you’re looking for?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a narrowing or collapse of the airway during sleep, leading to pauses in breathing and disrupted sleep. While there are various treatments available, including CPAP machines and surgery, some people may prefer to explore natural remedies.

Running is a popular form of exercise that has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced stress levels. But does it also help with sleep apnea? In this article, we will explore the relationship between running and sleep apnea and whether it can be an effective treatment option for those looking to improve their sleep quality.

Does running help sleep apnea?

Being physically active during the day is a great way to reduce the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea, and running can be particularly beneficial.

New research performed on more than 138,000 participants has found that those with higher daily activity levels are 54% less likely to develop sleep apnea, with lead researcher Tianyi Huang noting that running contributes to this activity level while also reducing fluid retention during the night.

Sitting and watching TV for more than four hours a day was linked with an especially high risk of sleep apnea, so it’s important to exercise during the day in order to reduce this danger. Therefore, yes, running does does help reduce or prevent symptoms of sleep apnea.

How does running help sleep apnea?

Breathing Quality

Running is one of the best ways to improve breathing quality, upper airway muscle tone, and overall health. Running helps to promote deeper, longer, and stronger breaths. This type of exercise encourages using the diaphragm to breath correctly, increasing upper airway muscle tone, and airflow into the lungs which helps relieve sleep apnea symptoms.

Weight Loss

Running can be a great way to aid in weight loss and improve sleep quality with apnea. Since increased fat around the abdomen or neck can lead to breathing issues and worsen symptoms of apnea, running can reduce that fat and help to improve sleep quality. Even if you only lose a little bit of weight, it can still have significant, positive results on your sleep quality and make symptoms more manageable. Additionally, running helps to boost energy levels and can help you stay alert during the daytime while also helping your sleep cycle at night.

Reduce Fluid Buildup

Running can help reduce the amount of fluid build up in your body, specifically the nocturnal rostral fluid shift that can cause sleep apnea. This occurs when the fluids in your legs accumulate during the day and moves up to your neck and chest while you are asleep, making the upper airway smaller. Running can help reduce the level of fluid buildup in your legs so there is less of it when you lay down to sleep.

Improves Sleep

The first study goes back to 1970, where an 18 month exercise program for 1 hour, 3 times a week proved that the participants had more relaxing and restorative sleep. Studies continued showing that people with OSA achieve slow-wave sleep slower than those without. Running, or exercise is proven to increase the rate that individuals reach slow-wave sleep. This stage of sleep is important in reducing airway collapse.

Reduces Inflammation

A study showed that running or exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect on people, especially in people who are obese. Upper airways are known to be inflamed in many patients with OSA. Although, more research is needed, running is theorized to help upper airway inflammation which would reduce chances of blockage causing sleep apnea.

How should you start running for sleep apnea?

It is important for individuals with sleep apnea to start slow when incorporating running or exercise into their routine. Too much intensity too quickly could leave you feeling exhausted rather than invigorated after each session. Exercises like swimming or walking are great choices to start with, as they are mild forms of cardio that don’t require too much energy expenditure.

Creating a schedule with multiple daily sessions is also an effective way to ensure gradual progress towards your goals over time without placing too much strain on your body all at once. Ultimately, regular physical activity, no matter what it is, is beneficial for weight loss, overall health, and improved sleep quality associated with sleep apnea

What other exercises help with sleep apnea?

The types of sleep apnea exercises most recommended for patients are cardiovascular, stretching, yoga and myofunctional therapy (tongue and throat exercises).

Cardio workouts can help improve the health of your airways by strengthening the respiratory muscles and keeping them in peak condition. Stretching exercises can help open up the upper airway and throat muscles to allow more oxygen to flow while sleeping. Yoga is also beneficial, as it encourages better control over breathing and can promote relaxation. Lastly, and maybe most importantly for people who suffer from sleep apnea that can’t exercise, are tongue and throat exercises. These exercises improve tone and muscle function that could be causing obstructive sleep apnea.


In addition to these specific sleep apnea exercises, there are other activities that may be helpful when striving for a good night’s rest. Keeping a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the hours before bedtime, limiting exposure to electronic devices prior to sleep, and losing weight by dieting (if necessary) all have positives effects on sleep quality and may be considered “types” of sleep apnea exercises as well. Ultimately, getting enough quality rest each night is critical for living a healthy lifestyle. These various types of exercise provide an avenue for achieving just that.


Running has the potential to provide significant value to patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is an inexpensive and simple therapeutic alternative that comes with systemic benefits. Specifically, any physical exercise can result in increased upper airway dilator muscle tone and less fluid accumulation in the neck, while also decreasing body weight, reducing inflammation, and increasing slow-wave sleep. Exercise can also reduce OSA severity, daytime sleepiness, and increase sleep efficiency.

These findings are encouraging, but more studies must be conducted to fully understand the role of exercise in treating OSA and its complications. In particular, studies should look into how other lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes contribute to outcomes related to OSA treatment alongside regular physical activity regimens. Additionally, further research should take into consideration long-term outcomes in order to evaluate the best ways for individuals to manage their conditions over a sustained period of time.

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