Hot Flashes: Diet, Exercise, and Lifestyle Tips

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
3/15/2011 2:25 PM   :  62 comments   :  29,785 Views

Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, BabyFit.com. Today's blog post is the second in a series on menopause health and fitness.

By Cathy Cram, M.S.

The responses from my first blog overwhelmingly mentioned hot flashes as one of the most difficult symptoms of menopause. With that in mind, Iíve spent the past week looking into the most recent research on hot flashes and treatments. Iíve come across so many treatments and lifestyle recommendations that Iíve decided to break the hot flash blog into three parts. Today Iím posting part one, which offers diet, exercise and lifestyle tips. Part two will cover alternative treatments (such as herbs and acupuncture) and part three will explore current medications prescribed for hot flashes, as well studies being done on new treatment options.

The Internet and bookstores offer an overwhelming amount of information on various hot flash treatments, making it difficult to determine which treatments are valid and which are a waste of time and money. With that in mind, the information Iíve complied on hot flashes treatments provides an overview of some of the recent studies published on this topic and recommendations from medical experts in the field of womenís health. Keep in mind that the information provided in this blog and future blogs arenít specific recommendations for you, but should be used as a resource for working with your healthcare provider in treating your menopausal symptoms.

So, youíre having hot flashes? Youíre in good company, as up to 75% of women going through menopause experience these episodes of increased skin temperature, profuse sweating, facial flushing and rapid heart rate. The exact cause of hot flashes isnít clear, but some researchers suspect that the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that regulates temperature, may be involved. Thereís other research that points to a different mechanism, involving the insular cortex section of the brain. That study found that women who have a narrower zone between their sweat/shivering set point seem to have a higher incidence of hot flashes during menopause. In those women, even a slight increase in core temperature can trigger the body to react.

The degree and frequency of hot flashes (the medical term is vasomotor symptoms, and include hot flashes, flushes and night sweats) can vary widely among menopausal women, but there are some factors that increase your risk:

  • Smoking: The Study of Womenís Health Across America (SWAN) showed that menopausal women who smoke have more frequent and intense hot flashes as compared to non-smokers.

  • Physical Inactivity: Women who donít exercise tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and weight, as well as other factors that contribute to increased risk of hot flashes as compared to fit women.

  • Body weight: The SWAN study found that being either under or over a healthy weight can increase the risk of hot flashes. In addition, a woman with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 had a higher number of hot flashes than women below that number.

  • Ethnicity: Hot flashes are more common with African-American and Latina women than European descent, and least common in Japanese and Chinese descent.

  • Thyroid disease.

  • Surgical menopause (removal of the ovaries) or drug-induced menopause.

  • Women who have been treated with tamoxifen or have gone through chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Start by focusing on reducing the risks factors that you can change by increasing your exercise level to reduce body fat, and take a good look at your diet to see if you need to make some nutritional changes. If you smoke, look into a smoking cessation program to help you quit.

Here are some basic tips for reducing hot flashes through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.

Trigger Foods:
Keep a ďhot flashĒ diary to see if there are triggers that seem to increase the frequency and degree of your hot flashes. Some women find that spicy foods, caffeine (in coffee, tea and soft drinks and other products-check labels) as well as alcohol are triggers. If you notice a pattern with some foods seeming to cause hot flashes, reducing or eliminating them from your diet may help. Thereís a convenient way to chart your menopause symptoms on your smart phone by using the app myPause. Itís an easy way to be able to chart in real time.

Exercise:
Research hasnít shown a strong relationship between fitness level and degree of hot flashes, but we do know that women who exercise regularly tend to have a lower body fat and stress level. Impacting weight and stress through exercise is an excellent way to improve you total health, which in turn can decrease your menopause symptoms.

I encourage women to focus as much on their strength training as they do on their cardio, as the benefits of building greater muscle mass has increasingly shown to impact bone strength and rate of muscle loss with age. Your best bet for slowing the rate you lose muscle as you age is by including some form of strength training three days a week. I like to use a resistance band to do exercises-itís inexpensive, easy to use and you can increase the resistance of the band simply by shortening the length.

Focus on working the muscles that you donít use with your cardio exercise, such as your core and upper body. Research has shown that one set of 10-12 repetitions is enough to gain muscle strength and that women who include strength training have decreased muscle loss and lower body fat with age as compared to women who donít do strength training. Donít worry, you wonít build big bulky muscles with moderate strength training-it takes intense, high level weight training for women to be able to build bulk.

A good routine to start with is one set of 10-12 reps at a weight or resistance that feels challenging by the last couple of reps. You want to put some effort into the reps, but donít push so hard that you feel pain or strain. As you become stronger, increase your weight or band resistance to keep it feeling challenging. Remember to allow 24 hours between strength training bouts for muscle recovery.

If youíre looking for a strength training video, check out SparkPeopleís short workout videos. They've created a wide range of workout routines that are effective and fun. In addition, look for future blogs where Iíll go into targeted exercise programs for building bone strength and reducing weight gain during the menopausal years.

Paced Breathing:
Thereís nothing more stressful than feeling a hot flash coming on when youíre in a public place. Your anxiety level soars, further fueling the increase in your heart rate, sweating and agitation. Thereís some evidence that ďpaced breathingĒ a technique for calming your body and reducing hot flash symptoms through slow, mindful breathing, can help.

  • Initially start by practicing this technique in a quiet place so youíre able to focus on your breathing

  • Sit in a comfortable chair with your hands placed on your tummy (after you are able to correctly inhale and exhale from your abdomen you can do the breathing without the hand placement).

  • Inhale slowly for five seconds, allowing your tummy to expand out (think of pressing outward into your hands as you inhale).

  • Exhale slowly for five seconds, pulling inward on your tummy.

  • Your shoulders shouldnít move as you do this breathing; all the movement should be in your lower abdomen.

  • Practice paced breathing several times a days, for 10-15 minutes. Use paced breathing whenever you feel stress building or at the start of a hot flash, and with practice this technique can help reduce your anxiety and physical symptoms.

    Another simple way to prevent your body from triggering a hot flash is to reduce the temperature in your home. Thereís even research thatís shown that women who kept their home (or even just their bedroom) temperature at or below 68 degrees F had significantly fewer and less intense hot flashes and night sweats than women who kept their home above that temperature.

    You can further cool down your night time temperature by using a cooling pillow and other bedding accessories that were made with menopause night sweats in mind. If all else fails, hereís a tip from a friend of mine whose common sense handy work has solved her night sweat issue: Consider installing a remote control ceiling fan. Keep the remote under your pillow and in time of need, retrieve the remote, turn on and have it set so it goes off after 30 min. She tells me itís made a big difference in the quality of her sleep.

    This is just the first level of strategies to help with hot flashes, so give these suggestions a try, and check back in two weeks for the next blog on alternative treatments.

    Iíve listed below a short list of books and websites that offer great information on menopause. Please check them out, and also feel free to post your favorite books on this topic.

    Resources:
  • The Menopause Book by Pat Wingert and Barbara Kantrowitz

  • The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause by Holly Thacker

  • The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause by Barbra Seaman and Laura Eldridge

  • Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause The Boston Womenís Health Book Collective

  • Menopause Matters: Your Guide to a Long and Healthy Life by Julia Schlam Edelman

  • Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation

  • Mayo Clinic Guide to Hot Flashes

    Catherine Cram, M.S. is the author of Fit Pregnancy For Dummies, and the owner of Comprehensive Fitness Consulting, LLC. Catherineís company specializes in providing prenatal postpartum fitness information to health-care professionals.

    Have you experienced hot flashes? How do you cope with them?


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    Comments

    • 62
      Another expression for hot flashes: Power Surges! Sounds a little more get-up-and-go than a personal tropical moment. :-D - 6/6/2013   10:50:48 AM
    • 61
      I dont recall having any HOTFlashes until I stopped drinking soy milk and then they were so much Hot, but I was shivering instead. But as soon as I took Black Cohosh I started to get HOTFLASHES! Go figure that one out. I thought Black cohosh was supposed to prevent them! I had more problems with adrenaline fashes or overheating from too much sugar and that I controlled by diet! I had one bad FLASH, and I passed out! I learned I had low blood sugar...its what caused my HOTFLASH that day! So how do you know if its due to hormonal fluctuations, the thyroid, sugar or your adrenaline glands out of balance? I covet a good HOTFLASH when I sleep. Because I have to take a heating pad to bed to keep me warm! lol - 9/21/2011   12:03:46 PM
    • PZANDER
      60
      Nice article!!! Its very helpful info... Thanks for sharing. :) realviagrarx.net - 8/20/2011   6:07:23 AM
    • 59
      I have cut out caffeine and dairy products and now have a lot of soy in my diet (dairy substitutes and beans). So far, after 8 weeks, my hot flushes (in the UK they're flushes!) have diminished from about 20 a day to only one or two a day. I hope it lasts! - 8/17/2011   2:28:51 PM
    • 58
      75% of us are hot flashing and/or menopausing? WOW! That's amazing!

      Love the idea of the cooling pillow .. I usually throw mine on the floor when I sweat. - 8/6/2011   6:45:46 AM
    • 57
      Hope I can play the odds, and avoid these as much as possible. Luckily, I only have a couple of 'risk factors' for them!

      cj - 7/15/2011   5:16:16 PM
    • 56
      I entered menopause at 43 (look on DH's face when I came home from the drugstore with a pregnancy test - priceless!), and 11 years later still have an occasional personal mini-tropical vacation! I don't let it bother me too much and have learned to a.) make a quick paper fan in 2 sec. flat, b.) have a small tabletop fan on nightstand, and c.) keep gel packs in the fridge at home and work (had ice cubes in a ziploc bag shoved in the small of my back one day at work - it busted. Not pretty!) - 3/20/2011   8:23:22 AM
    • 55
      I went on HRT because my flaashes were making me crazy.... and got breast cancer and now I take tamoxifen and I am miserable...mostly at night...changes in temp from one minute to the next..I keep a fan on and a cardigan nearby....waking up in wet sheets sucks....but I am halfway thru the "sentence" of five years and cancer free..Mu husband is a saint....
      .. - 3/20/2011   8:06:13 AM
    • MFLEESAK
      54
      Drinking a lot of water was the only thing that helped my hot flashes. - 3/19/2011   9:52:18 AM
    • 53
      I had a hysterectomy at age 44, but kept my ovaries intact, so I didn't go into immediate menopause. I suspect I have now though, but without the most obvious symptom, I'm not sure. What I believe to be hot flashes started a couple of months ago. Not too awful, but embarrassing. I just have to remember to stop saying things like "whew! It's so HOT in here" and "wow...I really feel hot!" so people will stop speculating. I guess this is my payback for when in my younger years I was never bothered by monthly cramps the way my friends were. - 3/19/2011   12:32:23 AM
    • 52
      I had a stroke at age 44 that seemed to have sent me into menopause. I rarely have hot flashes, but something I've noticed among my friends, those who are more laid back and don't get stressed as easily seem to have fewer and less severe hot flashes. - 3/18/2011   1:56:03 PM
    • BYTEGURL
      51
      I'm 40 and began having daytime hot flashes a year ago. Luckily, they have gone but I continued to have nighttime hot spells. Not too many night sweats, just waking up so hot! The only thing that has worked for me is some hot flash cream I bought online from Walgreens. It's a bioidentical progesterone cream and wow! it has really worked for me. I actually bought it though because my progesterone level was fluctuating so badly, that when it dropped I wanted to sleep for hours during the day. In combination with oral contraceptives, I'm wide awake all day and have my life back. I've also started a running program and watch what I'm eating, but the cream is what's worked best for me. - 3/18/2011   11:33:48 AM
    • 50
      I had my first hot flash about 9 years ago. They were very sporadic but it totally freaked me out. Started atomic hot flashes 2 years ago and it's terrible, especially in the summer. I'm 52 and officially entered menopause on my 52nd birthday. I am really dreading the summer because they are so intense they make me sick to my stomach at times. I've had brief (30 day) respite twice in the past 2 years and have tried & flunked acupunture. I've never wanted to do any kind of HRT but honestly, I'm about at the point where I'll try anything.
      This blog is very timely. I've gained 40 lbs in the time since my first hot flash and struggle so with exercise. I've been praying for something to change that and this just might be the answer to my prayers. I will increase my activity and also try cutting out caffeine and see if it helps.
      Thank you for this timely blog! - 3/18/2011   8:47:52 AM
    • 49
      nope no hot flashes for me.. - 3/18/2011   8:38:21 AM
    • CAROLA28
      48
      My gynecologist told me 'Stay off sugary foods and drinks and you won't get hot flashes" I don't know if that's true, but I've so far not had any hot flashes (no matter what I eat) and I'm 53. Hope I don't get them at all, but I'll find out. - 3/18/2011   7:34:22 AM
    • 47
      Supposedly I am supposedly in line for "Male Menopause" (too bad I DO NOT believe in it -neither does my junk!). - 3/17/2011   11:05:42 PM
    • 46
      Not yet and I hope I never do! - 3/17/2011   5:57:37 PM
    • 45
      Yep, truly horrible - six years of them, 'tho they're easing off now. At their worst, they were back to back much of the day, accompanied by profuse sweating. I had never imagined such misery, and those that have not experienced it (as I had not, pre-menopause) cannot even imagine. Eliminating caffeine and hot drinks helped considerably several years into it... And I am so glad that they have calmed down considerably. Exercise has definitely helped. - 3/17/2011   10:58:18 AM
    • 44
      Gailruu - Well I have no information but please believe as an Englishwoman hot flashes or flushes are awful. I know they are not life threatening and lots of people around the world have to deal with much worse but I am fed up with waking two or three times each night in a pool of sweat! Daytime ones are bad but somehow easier to deal with. Fan and cool pillows are fine but because the flush causes me to sweat the moisture on my skin then goes cold and clammy and I find myself shivering as though I am in the Arctic without a coat! Somebody somewhere come up with something new... - 3/17/2011   4:32:43 AM
    • ETHELMERZ
      43
      Hot flashes were annoying, but I never "took" anything against them, figured my mother lived through them, and she is 98 now. She also mentioned that she still has hot flashes now and then, usually around the time before the full moon, like when she used to have her periods. I wore V-necked tops, and opened the bedroom window in winter during the main part of menopause, but, just lived with them. Soy made them worse, and black coffee made them better. Losing weight didn't change them, getting older helped. - 3/16/2011   11:16:24 PM
    • 42
      Yes and I love the heat (I've always been cold) but hate that they wake me at night! I find it hard to get back to sleep. I like the suggestions. I am doing most of it just not strength training. Guess I will add it. Thanks for the info. - 3/16/2011   10:32:02 PM
    • CIRANDELLA
      41
      Yep! Had a surgical (post-hysterectomy) "instant" menopause at 48. I'm 59 now and long past the last hot flash, but they really weren't bad; more comical than anything! Those chilled pillows are wonnnnnnderful, though, as is sleeping in as few clothes as possible. And there are misting fans for hot summer nights. They're a distant memory now! - 3/16/2011   9:17:04 PM
    • 40
      On occasion I get them but very intermittently -- will work on keeping track now and see if there is any special trigger. Thanks for the info - 3/16/2011   8:25:56 PM
    • 39
      love this - 3/16/2011   7:13:06 PM
    • 38
      I'm too old for hot flashes now, but in the past, I found that soy milk worked a charm for hot flashes. You can get it flavoured, if you don't like the plain. good luck to all of you ladies, going through menopause. Do exercise, as well. Andrea - 3/16/2011   6:53:06 PM
    • 37
      This is a good article. Another great book is THE WISDOM OF MENOPAUSE by Christiane Northrup. Lots of information that is good to know. - 3/16/2011   5:39:54 PM
    • 36
      I began perimenopause at the ripe old age of 32 right after a tubal ligation. The hot flashes continued in intensity throughout the yrs. until 52 when I was in menopause. The hot flashes are still with me 32 yrs. later. We keep our home at 67-68 degrees, the bedroom (lower level) is about 56-58 yr. round. I really have no other method of being comfortable as will appreciate continued readings of these issues. I was on hormonal therapy but taken off for life due to blood clots in my lungs. They tell me these hotflashes will ease and go away but my mom is still waiting for that to happen and she is 84. I have a feeling I will follow in her footsteps.:) Thanks for a great blog. - 3/16/2011   4:44:47 PM
    • LIZBOJ
      35
      I started to have pre-menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, 10 years ago. Talked to my doctor who likes natural solutions whenever possible, and he suggested quitting caffeine and drinking more water. So I quit coffee and all soft drinks, and now drink almost nothing besides water. No more hot flashes or other symptoms. I honestly never knew when I went through menopause--just noticed a few years ago that I hadn't had a period in months! Yippie! My health has been very good. Of course, I'm still overweight, and I need to exercise more, but that's why I'm on this site. :-) - 3/16/2011   3:37:16 PM
    • SUGARSMOM2
      34
      am so happy to be done with this phase of my life . worst ten years i ever lived . - 3/16/2011   1:45:05 PM
    • 33
      I seemed to start having noticeable hot flashes when I tried some St. John's wort years ago (around age 40). Stopped the SJW but the flashes didn't stop. I think SJW is sometimes recommended for flashes, as well as a mood elevator, but it seemed to bring on, rather than prevent, my flashes. A co-worker reported similar reaction.

      I suspected there were some other variables, as I'd wondered about PCOS for a few years and was later diagnosed as diabetic, recently found a small goiter. I think any of those could have some impact on the "warm feeling," which seems to be largely resolved now.

      Given that my teen was old enough to wonder why mom sometimes suddenly turned the car AC to "freeze" :), I figured it was better to acknowledge than deny. While I did provide a very simple, accurate explanation, I then went on to rename them "power surges."

      I feel a "surge" once in a great while now, but can generally tie it to a precipitous change in my blood sugar, so I don't think of it as a hormonal hot flash. Just note it because others have also commented on impact of food; maybe worth considering blood sugar as cause? - 3/16/2011   12:30:51 PM
    • MJ7DM33
      32
      Thank You very much for the blog! Information is knowledge! - 3/16/2011   12:10:36 PM
    • 31
      I used estrogen patches until I developed breast cancer. I had used them for 10 yr. which was an excessive time but my hot flashes were debilitating. Back-to- back all night & day so I gambled. I then used Black Cohash for about a yr. Worked well for me. - 3/16/2011   11:58:20 AM
    • JENNAJMS
      30
      i am agree with you amylovestzu. very helpful to every one!

      http://www.articlesbase.com/skin -

      care-articles/causes-of-facial-

      blushing-and-what-to-do-about-it
      -

      4333481.html - 3/16/2011   11:29:56 AM
    • 29
      I had awful ones. Stopped for 5 years and they seem to be coming back. What's up with that?!!!! - 3/16/2011   11:26:07 AM
    • 28
      helpful info but i'm not QUITE there yet. - 3/16/2011   11:24:01 AM
    • 27
      I breezed through menopause without any hot flashes. I read somewhere that women in other cultures don't experience hot flashes as much as American women. I wonder if that is true and if so, why? - 3/16/2011   10:22:55 AM
    • 26
      I've been perimenopausal for about 10 years and although I do have hot flashes, mine are mild compared to others. Luckily, we keep the thermostat at 60 in the winter and my office is always cold. I do keep a fan next to the bed. It not only keeps me cool but helps tone down my husbands snores ; ). - 3/16/2011   10:08:12 AM
    • 25
      I haven't experienced any hot flashes just yet. But then, I've only started noticing the occasional symptom of peri-menopause too. I've read many instances where a regular exercise program can help reduce the symptoms. That's a good reason to keep on exercising.

      I can't remember who first made the comparison, but I heard a comedian call hot flashes... an energy surge ! That sounds way better than hot flash ! LOL !!! - 3/16/2011   9:45:13 AM
    • 24
      I don't know how long ago I started night sweats and hot flashes, but I have noticed a huge difference with weight loss and exercise. I may only have a daytime hot flash about once a week or so and the night sweats are much improved although I do still have them more often than the flashes. I am 49 this year so I'd guess I still have a long way to go before it's over ( if ever). I read someones comment on drinking more water and less caffine and I have done that too. Perhaps that is part of my hot flash therapy as well. Great blog! - 3/16/2011   9:38:16 AM
    • 23
      thanks. It helps to know so many of us are in the same boat. - 3/16/2011   8:49:44 AM
    • 22
      Excellent blog! I had to chuckle about keeping the house cool, because my husband sleeps under three blankets, while I sleep under one thin one, just to ward off the night sweats. Wish I could take HRT or herbal remedies, but meds I'm on are incompatible with those treatments. I've tried acupuncture, but while it helped with pain, I don't think I saw a difference in the frequency or intensity of hot flashes. In fact, the worst hot flash I recall occurred right after an acupuncture treatment. So...now I'm here to work on the weight and activity factors. - 3/16/2011   8:42:37 AM
    • 21
      I am now 67 years young.
      I have NEVER had hot flashes.
      I am of British descent, never drank soda or coffee if that truly is significant.
      I had my last period at 56 and when i skipped the next one I kind of panicked. Had a pregnancy test done. What a relief that was. That was it MENSES was Paused. I anticipated all kinds of woes but for me it was just like someone flicked a switch and it was behind me. I have heard other women have had similar experiences but I mostly hear the bad part of menopause. For me it was sexual freedom and a less expensive way of life. I never took birth control pills and I have always avoided putting chemicals in or on my body, perhaps that helped. Pat in Maine - 3/16/2011   8:27:53 AM
    • 20
      I have been having hot flashes for about 5 years now. I had a hysterectomy when I was 37, although I kept my ovaries. I started menopause when I was about 40 and my doctor put me on estrogen which helped. After being on it for 12 years, I decided that was enough and quit taking it. That is when the hot flashes started. I have tried the patch and cream to no avail. One interesting thing is, though, that I have found that if I overeat at dinner, they are viscious. Also, eating beef increases them. I have cut out red meat which has helped a lot and portion control helps. There are other triggers, but I guess that might be different for everyone. I found your blog interesting as I have never had a doctor tell me that food would affect the hot flashes. Thanks for your information. Muche needed! - 3/16/2011   7:23:39 AM
    • PICKLEDGINGER2
      19
      Glad I don't have to worry about this anymore. However, I enjoyed the hot flashes. - 3/16/2011   5:50:35 AM
    • 18
      My hotflashes about 3 weeks ago were about 8 a night...horrible...now since I started taking "Evening Primrose Oil Capsules" and "Estrapause" both found at vitamin stores. What an amazing difference!!! My co-workers are glad too!! LOLI have also started eating more soy products. - 3/16/2011   5:29:23 AM
    • 17
      very nice article... I'm resetting my thermostat now, LOL - 3/16/2011   2:15:12 AM
    • 16
      My dr. told me I was perimenopausal from the age of 31. I started having night sweats about 40 and hot flashes shortly thereafter. It's been miserable, although I did notice a difference when I maintained a steady exercise routine. Thank you for substantiating my beliefs and giving us more info on menopause! I really appreciate it. - 3/16/2011   12:10:06 AM
    • ICMHICKS
      15
      Great article!! - 3/15/2011   11:46:48 PM
    • 14
      How refreshing to see the tamoxifen mentioned...I've always suspected as much since I went into chemo induced menopause. It's getting better now but the first 3 years were so unpredictable. - 3/15/2011   11:28:40 PM
    • 13
      I am very lucky to be one of the few that did not get hot flashes. I had my ovaries removed and for about 3 weeks got mildly warm every so often but I only noticed b/c my doctor had warned my I would probably have bad hot flashes b/c of the surgical menopause so I was really paying attention to anything that seemed a little bit different. I'm not complaining though LOL! - 3/15/2011   10:41:08 PM

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