Greater endurance from consistent physical activity can significantly boost survival rates for men with both conditions, researchers found. The findings are significant since the prevalence of sleep apnoea, which commonly occurs in people with diabetes and high blood pressure, is on the rise, the study authors noted.
"Recent findings suggest that patients with sleep apnoea have an increased risk of dying of any cause compared with individuals without sleep apnoea," said study co-author Dr Skikha Khosla, an endocrinologist at the Washington, DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center and George Washington University.
Good exercise capacity has already been linked to a lower risk of death in patients with type 2 diabetes, Khosla added. The new study found that there is a similar relationship in men who also have obstructive sleep apnoea, a disorder that disrupts breathing during sleep.
Diabetes and sleep apnoea in men
For the study, researchers analysed 567 male veterans averaging 62 years of age who completed exercise fitness testing between 1996 and 2010. The men's fitness levels were based on the number of peak metabolic equivalents (METs) they achieved during a stress test (a test that determines how well the heart handles exertion).
Men who earned five or fewer METs were classified as low fitness. Those who earned more than 10 METs were considered high fitness, and anyone in between was graded as moderate.
After taking other risk factors into account, such as race, smoking and medication use, the researchers found that the risk of death among the men was 13% lower for every 1-MET increase in fitness level. Moreover, men in the low-fitness category had a 75% higher risk of death than those considered high fitness.
"Although these data are epidemiologic and our patient population was small, the trend we saw in mortality is impressive," said Khosla. She added, however, that more studies are needed to confirm the results.
Although people with sleep apnea should strive to get 150 to 200 minutes of physical activity each week, they should talk to their doctor before starting any exercise program and work towards that goal gradually, Khosla advised.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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