Exercise and attitude may be thermostat for hot flashes

Attitude may play an important role in how exercise affects menopausal women, according to Penn State researchers, who identified two types of women — one experiences more hot flashes after physical activity, while the other experiences fewer.
‘The most consistent factor that seemed to differentiate the two groups was perceived control over hot flashes,’ said Steriani Elavsky, assistant professor of kinesiology. ‘These women have ways of dealing with (hot flashes) and they believe they can control or cope with them in an effective way on a daily basis.’
Women who experienced fewer hot flashes the day after participating in vigorous to moderate physical activity were more likely to be part of the group that felt they had control over their hot flashes. Women who had more hot flashes following exercise were likely to be those who felt they had very few ways of coping with their hot flashes, Elavsky and her colleagues report in a recent issue of Maturitas.
Elavsky suggested that cognitive behavioural therapy may help some women feel they have more control over their bodies and reactions to hot flashes.
The participants with fewer hot flashes the day after vigorous exercising were also less likely to experience anxiety and depression. However, women who had fewer hot flashes the day after only light or moderate physical activity had higher levels of pessimism and depression than others.
‘The bottom line for research is that people need to look at individual differences,’ said Elavsky. ‘It’s not enough anymore to do a study and look at overall impact of an exercise program on symptoms. It’s very clear that we need to look at the different responses that women might have, and try to understand these individual differences more.’
Elavsky and her colleagues followed 24 menopausal women for the length of one menstrual cycle, or for 30 days if they were no longer menstruating. Each woman used a personal digital assistant to record hot flashes and wore an accelerometer at the hip to track physical activity. The women in the study regularly had hot flashes before the start of the study, experiencing from five to 20 a day.
‘The real-time reporting of symptoms and the objective measurement is a strength of the study,’ said Elavsky. ‘There aren’t any studies out there that use both of these approaches.