Weight Management

Therapeutic use of hypoxia for obesity treatment

Olivier Girard/ Research Scientist
22 March, 2017

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Obesity is a major health burden in the Middle East. In order to tackle body fat accumulation and diseases associated with the obese phenotype, aggressive prevention strategies, mainly based on dieting and regular physical exercise, have been implemented. Often, however, success rates are low. Consequently, the search for innovative strategies such as exercise training in oxygen-deprived environments (hypoxic conditioning) is growing.


Historically, altitude (or hypoxic) training emerged in the late 60s and was mostly used by endurance athletes looking to improve their performance. More recently, hypoxic conditioning has emerged for treatment of obesity and related comorbidities. The rationale behind is that body weight loss and improvement in cardio-metabolic health would be larger than that by exercise or hypoxia alone.


Information regarding the combined effects of hypoxia (affecting energy intake) and exercise (affecting energy expenditure) on physiological systems involved in body weight reduction in obese individuals is relatively new. In addition to body weight/composition management and appetite regulation, an increasing body of evidence suggests that cardiovascular, respiratory/pulmonary and metabolic functions could rapidly be further improved by hypoxic conditioning.


In order for individuals to continue exercising regularly, training programs should be perceived enjoyable and not too time consuming. One form of exercise training that is receiving recent attention in health-enhancing research is high-intensity interval training. This intervention involves repeated bouts of high-intensity effort followed by varied recovery times. High-intensity interval training significantly increases cardiorespiratory fitness by almost double that of moderate-intensity continuous training in patients with lifestyle-induced chronic diseases. Even in obese individuals, this training is generally well tolerated and safe.


Compared to ‘normal breathing’ conditions, perceived muscle/joint pain associated with walking on flat surfaces in hypoxia typically is reduced to achieve the same training effect. Consequently, hypoxic conditioning would potentially be useful in obese individuals with orthopedic complications to lower training workload. Reducing mechanical pain associated with exercise likely increases enjoyment and adherence to training.


In summary, inclusion of hypoxic conditioning in rehabilitation programs and prescription of lifestyle interventions may have health promotion benefits on Middle Eastern populations. Aspetar is a centre of excellence that can provide obese individuals with possibilities to sleep (altitude hotel rooms) and/or walk (inside an hypoxic marquee or a climatic chamber) in oxygen-deprived environments to improve their quality of life.



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