Out of the many menopausal side effects, hot flashes can be one of the most difficult to deal with due to their sudden and overwhelming nature. One moment you’re fine, and the next you feel overheated, dizzy, and faint. Fortunately, there is some evidence that a regular exercise program can help with hot flashes when used in conjunction with other menopause relief products and strategies. Read on to discover the link between exercise and hot flashes, plus tips for ways to reduce hot flashes by working out.
The Link Between Exercise and Hot Flashes
It is not completely understood what causes hot flashes, so there is some speculation as to exactly how exercise and hot flashes are linked. However, there is evidence that regular, moderate aerobic exercise sessions can help reduce the frequency and severity of hot flash episodes. Why might this be?
One of the things that happens during menopause is that your body’s average core temperature rises. You quite literally “run hotter” than you did previously. This means that your body temperature stays closer to the threshold at which you start to sweat. This is one of the reasons you get night sweats during menopause. Your body temperature, which previously dropped while you slept, now remains elevated, triggering a hot flash at night.
During menopause, your body’s “thermoneutral zone” also narrows. The thermoneutral zone is a term that describes the range of temperatures where you are neither too cold nor too hot, neither shivering nor sweating (think of it as the Goldilocks temperature zone). This means that menopausal women become too cold or too hot more easily than they used to, further contributing to hot flashes.
A regular exercise regimen can help mitigate these bodily changes. For one, moderate aerobic exercise — at an intensity that involves sweating and an increased heart rate — seems to lower core body temperature over time, helping to reverse the effects of menopause. Regular exercise also seems to stabilize the thermoneutral zone and helps to stop it from narrowing so much.
Exercise may also help improve your body’s mechanisms for heat regulation and dissipation, specifically by controlling blood flow. When you get a hot flash, part of the reason you feel flushed and dizzy is that all the blood rushes to your skin at once. By strengthening your cardiovascular system, regular exercise may help your body better regulate blood flow during a hot flash, reducing the severity of your symptoms.
Working out is also known to help reduce stress in people of all ages and genders — and stress is also known for worsening menopause symptoms, including hot flashes. Exercise helps reduce stress because it stimulates your brain to release “feel good” hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, giving you an instant mood boost. Physical exertion such as exercise also promotes good sleep, which is another important tool in reducing stress. By lowering your stress through regular exercise, you will also reduce the frequency and severity of all your menopause symptoms, including hot flashes.
Finally, when used in conjunction with a healthy diet, exercise can help stave off menopause-related weight gain and promote maintaining a health weight. Excess weight can make some menopause symptoms worse, including hot flashes, and also puts you at great risk for cardiovascular related diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
Tips for Exercising with Hot Flashes
Not every kind of exercise will provide equal relief for hot flashes. Based on the research, the most effective kind of exercise is aerobic (i.e., cardiovascular) exercise that elevates your heart rate and makes you sweat. These two variables are very key, and you won’t get the same results from exercise that doesn’t elevate your heart rate or make you sweat, such as yoga or swimming. It’s fine to incorporate some of these exercises into your routine, but you need to be doing heart-pumping, sweat-inducing cardio at least three days a week.
However, it’s very important that you don’t go too far in the opposite direction and exercise so hard you accidentally trigger a hot flash. (After all, you’re trying to train your body on how to cool you down without tipping over into a hot flash.) Stay away from very intense exercise such as running, plyometrics, and HIIT workouts, as well as anything that you know triggers a hot flash for you personally. Cycling, step aerobics, and the elliptical are better choices.
You should also take steps to proactively reduce your chances of having a hot flash while you work out. Stay hydrated before and during your workout, and keep ice water on hand to cool you down if you feel a hot flash coming on. Make sure that ambient temperatures aren’t too cold. Don’t exercise outside if it is hot and muggy, and run a fan or air conditioning inside if you have to. Wear breathable clothing and dress in layers so you can take off the outer layer if you start to get overheated. Take deep breaths throughout your workout so you can ensure that your body is getting enough oxygen.
Besides hot flashes, exercise can also help you with other symptoms of menopause. For instance, pelvic floor exercises will help strengthen weakened pelvic muscles that could be contributing to incontinence. Exercises for a menopausal belly can help strengthen your core and fight weight gain. Consider incorporating these other types in between your cardio sessions to reap the full benefits of working out.
Now you know how exercise can help with hot flashes. If you aren’t already doing a regular cardio routine, we recommend adding that to your exercise regimen, or starting with that if you don’t already exercise regularly. Just make sure to clear any exercise changes with your doctor first!