Exercise Can Ease Flashes, Provided It's Vigorous ; 2 Studies Suggest Sports Can Change How the Body Regulates Its Temperature

By Reynolds, Gretchen | International New York Times, August 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

Exercise Can Ease Flashes, Provided It's Vigorous ; 2 Studies Suggest Sports Can Change How the Body Regulates Its Temperature


Reynolds, Gretchen, International New York Times


Two new studies suggest that the right type of exercise might lessen hot flashes by changing how the body regulates its internal temperature.

Hot flashes are a lamentable part of reaching middle age for many women. While drug treatments may provide relief, two new studies suggest that the right type of exercise might lessen both the frequency and discomfiting severity of hot flashes by changing how the body regulates its internal temperature.

As estrogen levels drop with the onset of menopause, many women become less adept, physiologically, at dealing with changes to internal and external temperatures. The result, famously, is the hot flash (also known as a hot flush), during which women can feel sudden, overwhelming heat and experience copious sweating, a problem that in some cases can linger for years.

Hormone replacement therapy can effectively combat hot flashes, and antidepressants may also help, though drug treatments have well- established side effects. Weight loss also may lessen hot flashes, but losing weight after menopause is difficult.

So researchers at Liverpool John Moores University in England and other institutions began to consider whether exercise might help. Endurance exercise, after all, improves the body's ability to regulate temperature, the scientists knew. Athletes, especially those in strenuous sports like distance running and cycling, start to sweat at a lower body temperature than out-of-shape people. Athletes' blood vessels also carry more blood to the skin surface to release unwanted heat, even when they aren't exercising.

If exercise had a similar effect on older, out-of-shape women's internal thermostats, the scientists speculated, it might also lessen the number or the intensity of their hot flashes.

Previous studies examining exercise as a treatment for hot flashes had shown mixed results, the scientists knew. But many of those experiments had been short term and involved walking or similarly light exercise, which might be too gentle to cause the physiological changes needed to reduce hot flashes.

So for the two new studies, one published in the Journal of Physiology and the other in Menopause (using the same data to examine aspects of exercise and hot flashes), the researchers decided to look at the effects of slightly more strenuous workouts. They recruited 21 menopausal women who did not exercise but did experience hot flashes. According to diaries each woman kept for a week at the start of the study, some women were having 100 or more of them each week. …

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