menopause, hot flashes, exercise
June 28, 2012

Exercise Could Relieve Hot Flashes

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Increased energy and a fit body are just a few of the benefits of exercising. Scientists identified another advantage of working out for women. Researchers recently discovered that, for menopausal women who exercise, they experience fewer hot flashes in the 24 hours after physical activity.

Steriani Elavsky, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Penn State, and colleagues conducted the study. The findings showed that women who are inactive or obese are more likely to have a higher risk in symptoms perceived to be hot flashes. However, these perceived hot flashes are not always actual hot flashes. While past research has only looked at self-reported hot flashes, Elavsky´s study was the first to examine objective versus subjective hot flashes. This particular project studied 92 menopausal women for 15 days, many of whom had different profiles when compared to female participants from previous studies.

"Our sample included women with mild to moderate symptoms and they were recruited for a study of physical activity, not for a study of menopause," explained Elavsky in a prepared statement. "We recruited women residing in the community. We used recruitment sources that included a variety of outlets in the community frequented by women, like libraries, fairs, gyms, advertisements in local newspapers, etc."

The study subjects were between the ages of 40 to 59 years old, had an average of two children, and were not participants in hormone therapy. The researchers organized the women into normal weight and overweight/obese categories as well as higher fit and lower fit categories for analysis purposes. These categories were not mutually exclusive.

In the Penn State project, the participants were given accelerometers that could track their physical activity. They also wore monitors that could collect information on skin conductance, which can vary with the moisture level of skin. With a personal digital assistant, each participant listed the individual hot flash she had during the 15-day period. With the help of the two recording devices, the researchers were able to determine the frequency of objective and subjective hot flashes. Objective hot flashes were recorded with a monitor, while subjective hot flashes were recorded when the woman reported them. If an objective and subjective hot flash were found to occur within five minutes of each other, researchers considered that to be a “true positive” hot flash.

"Some physiological explanations would suggest that performing physical activity could increase hot flashes because it acutely increases body core temperature," commented Elavsky in the statement.

However, researchers discovered that this premise was false and that, on average, the women in the study had fewer hot flash symptoms following exercise. As well, women who were identified as overweight, had a lower level of fitness, or experienced more frequent or more intense hot flashes, sensed the smallest reduction in symptoms. Investigators have not identified if a woman can use diet and exercise to lose weight, become fit, and thus experience fewer hot flashes. Though, it is a possible option that can be examined in the future.

"For women with mild to moderate hot flashes, there is no reason to avoid physical activity for the fear of making symptoms worse," noted Elavsky in the statement. "In fact, physical activity may be helpful, and is certainly the best way to maximize health as women age. Becoming and staying active on a regular basis as part of your lifestyle is the best way to ensure healthy aging and well being, regardless of whether you experience hot flashes or not."

The findings are published in the current issue of Menopause.