Never too old or too young to feel hot, right? Sure, if it isn’t the other kind of hotness—the type that wakes you up in the night with your pajamas soaked like you just worked out, and your sheets reminding you of a kid who didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. Welcome to the world of night hot flashes!
Many women have experienced them at some point and the culprit is always the same: estrogen. This hormone makes you feel like a bombshell when you have plenty, but wiped out when levels drop.
Estrogen triggers hot flashes like this: when hormone levels fluctuate, they disrupt temperature regulations in the brain’s hypothalamus, the region that controls body temperature along with hunger, sleep, and fatigue, according to Kimberly S. Perez, MA and Carol Ewing Garber, Ph.D. in Health and Fitness Journal.
Also, the decline of estrogen upsets the balance between norepinephrine and dopamine—hormones linked to increase the flight fight response, such as alertness, increase heart rate, and stress. When these hormones are out of synch, your body can suddenly get revved up for no reason, which is why hot flashes feel like they come out of the blue.
Fat to Blame
Some studies have shown that when women who embrace hormone therapy can see their sweaty times diminished and/or disappeared. However, your hormones may not be the only problem. It also may be your extra pounds. A study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology, showed that abdominal fat was associated with increased odds of hot flashes. The more fat your have, the more you inhibit heat loss.
Not all women, regardless of their body fat and hormone levels, experience the intense sweats and flushed skin—blessed that they are—but about 70 to 80 percent of women in the United States experience hot flashes and night sweats during the menopausal transition and up to 25 percent of women in their 60s and 70s, according to the study. (You can learn more about how to combat hot flashes and other menopause symptoms at the 2nd Talk program from Poise.com.)
Sweat the Right Way
If you’re physically active you may be among the happy ones who don’t complain of bad moods after a night sweat—you already found out how one good sweat deactivates the other. Nevertheless, even if you workout, you may not be doing the right exercise to decrease and even prevent night hot flashes.
Studies have confirmed that aerobics are ideal for saying goodnight to night flashes. When you walk, pedal, run, and jump around on a regular basis, the body not only releases feel-good hormones, but also a potent vasodilator—nitric oxide (NO)—that has shown to have a role in the development of hot flashes. NO improves circulation by decreasing arterial stiffness. This creates a domino effect where more nutrients are delivered, which puts less pressure on the heart, which then lowers heart rate and blood pressure, which then reduces incidences of hot flashes. Likewise, aerobics increase blood flow to the muscles, which leads to stronger circulation and helps your body dissipate heat faster.
But duration and frequency are also important. A study by UKK Institute of Health Promotion Research, Finland found that sedentary women, aged 43-63 years with menopausal symptoms, improved sleep quality by 95 percent and significantly reduced night hot flashes after doing aerobic training four times a week for approximately 50 minutes.
Your Cooling Workout
Not all aerobics have to be on a treadmill or bike. You can achieve a good workout lifting light to moderate weights in a circuit fashion type—meaning one exercise after another without rest—selecting multi-joint exercises that work more than muscle at a time, and keeping your rest periods to 60 seconds or less.
So your exercise program can look like this: Monday and Wednesday—walking, running, biking, elliptical, or stair master machine for 45 minutes at moderate intensity; and Tuesday and Thursday—my Cooling Workout. This combines aerobics and resistance to tone and strengthen muscles at the same time, and also improves metabolism. A more active metabolism burns more calories and fat. And again, extra fat prevents heat loss.
Not only will this weekly routine help you sleep better and reduce night flashes, it can help you reduce body fat, tone muscles, and boost bone health for a whole-body workout. Now that’s hot!
Cooling Workout Circuit Guidelines
- Perform a light 5 minute warm-up like jogging in place, walking, etc
- Do 1-2 circuits, 15-20 reps each exercise, rest at the end of the circuit no more than 60 seconds
- Perform a light stretch at the end of the workout
- If you’re a beginner, do one circuit and keep the reps on the lower end
- Make sure that every reps count which means that the last two reps should be somewhat hard to perform
- Keep proper form at all times: core tight, chest up, back straight and the knee shouldn’t pass the toes
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.