If hot flashes are an uncomfortable part of your menopausal journey, research reported on by the New York Times may provide relief: two studies found that, by altering how the body regulates its internal temperature, the right type of vigorous exercise may lessen both the number and severity of hot flashes. The studies, published in the Journal of Physiology and Menopause, used the same data from an exercise trial in 21 menopausal women to examine different facets of the exercise–hot flash relationship. At the beginning of the trial, all of the women didn’t exercise and all experienced hot flashes—some reported having more than 100 hot flashes per week. Data was collected about the women’s general health, fitness, blood flow to the brain (this affects heat response), and ability to respond to heat stress. Fourteen of the women then chose to begin a 16-week exercise program that gradually ramped up in intensity from 30 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity exercise three times per week, to 45 minutes of more vigorous exercise four to five times per week; the other seven women chose to continue to not exercise. The women also kept a diary of their hot flashes. At the end of the trial, researchers measured the same health markers and analyzed the hot flash diaries, and found that:
The women who had exercised showed better ability to self-regulate body heat compared with the women who didn’t exercise. Specifically, during hot flashes, they perspired less, had less restriction of brain blood flow, and had less increase in skin temperature.
According to their hot flash diaries, the women who exercised had significantly greater reductions in the frequency and severity of hot flashes at the end of the trial. In fact, the average frequency of hot flashes among exercisers fell by more than 60%.
These findings are exciting and may lead some women to want to change their exercise habits. To these women, the professor who oversaw the studies had this reminder: “A leisurely walk for 30 minutes once a week is not going to have the required impact.” In order to be effective against hot flashes, exercise has to be a regular and long-term habit, and must be somewhat vigorous.
Source: Journal of Physiology and Menopause