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Jun 28

Exercise Can Reduce Hot Flashes


By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor Although it is not a panacea for everything that ails, exercise comes close, and new research suggests physical activity may reduce hot flashes in menopausal women.

Penn State researchers discovered exercise has the capacity to reduce hot flashes in the 24 hours following physical activity. Women who are relatively inactive, overweight or obese tend to have a risk of increased symptoms of perceived hot flashes, noted Steriani Elavsky, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at Penn State.

Experts say that perceived hot flashes do not always correspond to actual hot flashes. This factor has limited extrapolation of prior research findings as earlier studies typically analyzed only self-reported hot flashes. Researchers say the current study is the first to look at objective versus subjective hot flashes. Elavsky and colleagues studied 92 menopausal women for 15 days. Participants were recruited for a study of activity and consisted of women with mild to moderate symptoms.

This sample, while reflective of the real world, is in stark contrast to earlier menopausal studies that used women experiencing severe symptoms and seeking help. “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,” said Elavsky. “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.”

Women ranged in age from 40 to 59 years old, had two children on average, and were not on hormone therapy. During analysis the researchers separated the women into normal weight and overweight/obese categories and higher fit and lower fit categories. These categories were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

The participants wore accelerometers to monitor their physical activity and also wore monitors that measured skin conductance, which varies with the moisture level of the skin. Each participant recorded the individual hot flashes she had throughout the 15-day period on a personal digital assistant. Using two methods of recording hot flashes allowed researchers to analyze the frequency of objective and subjective hot flashes. Objective hot flashes occurred when the monitor recorded them; subjective hot flashes occurred when the woman reported them.

When an objective and a subjective hot flash were recorded within five minutes of each other, it was considered 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,” said Elavsky.

However, researcher discovered that on average, the women in the study experienced fewer hot flash symptoms after exercising. That said, women who were classified as overweight, having a lower level of fitness or those experiencing more frequent or more intense hot flashes, noticed the smallest reduction in symptoms.

Researchers say that they do not know if a diet and exercise regime could help a woman lose weight and become more fit and therefore experience fewer hot flashes, but it is a possibility worthy of future investigation. “For women with mild to moderate hot flashes, there is no reason to avoid physical activity for the fear of making symptoms worse,” said Elavsky.

“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 study is reported in the journal Menopause.

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