Thursday, June 28, 2012

Exercise Your Hot Flashes Away?

It's the M word. Some women hate it, some women welcome it: menopause. However you feel about it, if you're a woman, it's going to happen to you at some point.

It's quite interesting to hear women talk about their experiences with perimenopause, the time when the menstrual flow is shutting down, and menopause, the period after menstruation has stopped. Some women breeze through this time without any noticeable discomfort, while others are hit with everything that their body can throw at them.

Among the most common complaints from women "of a certain age" are the hot flashes, or hot flushes. Again, not all women find them uncomfortable, but for many - these hot flashes are not only uncomfortable, they are nasty.

But what exactly is a hot flash? No one knows quite for sure, but the easiest way to explain it is that your body's thermostat has gone haywire for a while. One theory is that a woman's dropping level of estrogen may throw off the hypothalmus, the body's temperature regulator.

I love this definition of a hot flash, from WebMD: "A hot flash -- sometimes called a hot flush -- is a momentary sensation of heat that may be accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating. The cause of hot flashes is not known, but may be related to changes in circulation."

Really? Momentary? Tell that to some women who minding their own business, doing their jobs, perhaps sitting in a board room meeting or driving a bus, and they are suddenly overwhelmed with a hot flash that just won't stop.

What to do?

So, if you do have hot flashes, what can you do to lessen their frequency and/or severity. Is there anything? The good news is that there are some things that help some women. The bad news is you may have to do a lot of trial and error to find something that works for you.

Here are some of the more common suggestions:

- Limit your alcohol intake and watch if certain alcoholic beverages trigger more hot flashes. Some Women find red wine is a big trigger, but they can drink white wine with few resulting hot flashes;
- Don't smoke; 
- Avoid meals that are heavy or spicy. Eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large ones;
- Drink cold drinks instead of hot drinks;
- Exercise;
- Dress in layers, preferably cotton fabrics.

That last point brings up a press release issued today by Penn State researchers, who undertook a study looking at menopause and exercise. The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

According to the researchers, "menopausal women who exercise may experience fewer hot flashes in the 24 hours following physical activity." They came to this conclusion after studying 92 menopausal women who were between 40 and 59 years old. They were not on any hormone therapy at the time of the study.

Over 15 days, the women wore accelerometers that monitored how much physical activity they performed and a monitor that measured the moisture on their skin. The women also recorded if and when they experienced hot flashes throughout the day.

Since exercise tends to make people feel warmer, it wouldn't be odd to suspect that exercise may make hot flashes worse, but the researchers found that this didn't happen. In fact, on average, the women in the study who exercised the most experienced fewer hot flashes after afterward. "The women who were classified as overweight, having a lower level of fitness, or were experiencing more frequent or more intense hot flashes,  noticed the smallest reduction in symptoms," the press release said. 

"For women with mild to moderate hot flashes, there is  no reason to avoid physical activity for the fear of making symptoms worse," said Steriani Elavsky, assistant professor of kinesiology at Penn State. "In fact, physical activity may be helpful, and is certainly the best way to maximize health as women age."

Some hot flash good news?

As uncomfortable as hot flashes may be, they may be good for something. According to a study published last year, researchers found - among the estimated 60,000 women they studied - that women who experienced hot flashes and night sweats while going into menopause had an 11 percent lower risk of developing heart disease later on in life. In addition, they had an eight percent lower chance of dying over the 10 years following the study. You can read more about it in this Time magazine article: The Hot Flashes of Menopause May Protect Women's Hearts, by Alice Park.

Do you have hot flashes? Do they bother you? How do you manage them?


donahelaine said...

I have heard some ladies complaining about hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, but wonder why don’t they control their physice by taking exercise. And they should know that exercise is the best way to control your hot flashes.

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Thanks for leaving your comment. I don't know if it's fair to say "they should know...." If they don't learn it, how would they?

Anonymous said...

I exercise everyday and have for the last 20 years. Now entering menopause and have so many hot flashes, which become more intense with exercise. Is HRT my only hope?

Carolann said...

I exercised regularly as a dance teacher and following breast cancer, chemo, reconstructive surgery and now on tamoxifen to control my oestrogen I am having awful hot flushes day and night I am exercising and have not found that the exercise has helped any ideas? Thanks

Kathy said...

I have hot flashes. I can see how exercise might help but for me, it would only help if I exercised in an air conditioned environment. Exercise itself triggers them..the other day I was out in 26C weather for a walk and when I got back I was warm from the exercise..a hot flash on top of that nearly put me over the edge..

Anonymous said...

I get so hot while exercising that it brings on a series of hot flashes that last for a couple of hours. I exercise in a cold room with the window open at -15C. It's still too hot.