“I have to warn you,” Susan said. “I’m having horrible hot flashes and may need to stop in the middle of our workout for a few minutes.”
The year was circa mid-1990s. I was a new in-home trainer in my mid-30s, ready to set the world on fire.
Most of my clients were women in their 50s. Many hired me because they finally had time to take care of themselves now that their kids were older.
But I soon found out: Book learning and real life are two different things. Nothing prepares you for people interactions other than being in the situation.
Intellectually, I’d read about menopause. I took courses on what happens physiologically.
I thought I knew the deal.
But I was still surprised when more than one client insisted on having the ceiling fan on full blast when the mercury went anywhere near 75.
In reality, I was still 15 years away from any firsthand experience with things like hot flashes. So basically, I had no clue.
- Was it like a fever?
- Would I feel one coming on?
- Would I sweat like crazy at weird times like when getting my hair colored – and embarrass myself?
(No, yes, and sometimes.)
Everyone was different, I soon discovered. “Susan” had flashes in waves, often brought on by exercise itself. We’d take frequent water breaks and she’d sometimes need to sit down for a minute or two.
In other words, we adjusted the workout accordingly but didn’t give up.
Because here’s the Catch-22: Exercise is proven to help reduce hot flash symptoms… yet activity itself can be a trigger.
I know, because – flash forward to present day – I went through menopause at 49 and had hot flashes for about 10 years to varying degrees. (No pun intended.)
In one study that showed how exercise can reduce hot flashes, a small group of women worked out for 14 weeks. Researchers found the exercising group experienced significant improvement in hot flashes compared to the group of women who remained sedentary.
So the question is: How can you manage workouts when you haven’t stopped sweating from the last hot flash?
As someone who knows what it’s like to change clothes in the middle of the night and lay down a towel on the mattress before getting back into bed: the struggle is real, my friend.
Aside from literally sweating through the flashes, I’ve found a few things that helped me keep going.
See if any of these work for you:
1. Create your own fan club
Have one on hand for any occasion: fans of all and any type: overhead, portable, folding, hand-held. Be ready at a moment’s notice when you feel that familiar flush begin.
2. Learn a stress-reducing tactic or two
Yoga, qigong, meditation, and deep breathing can all ease the severity of symptoms both during and afterward. Condition yourself to become aware when a hot flash is about to rear its ugly head and purposely… relax. Breathe… focus on calming yourself. You can often cut the flash short or ease its intensity.
In fact, any of these make great practices in between more strenuous workout days.
Monday: weight training
Wednesday: yoga or qigong
3. Look for food-to-flash patterns
Note foods that trigger hot flashes and go easy or avoid them altogether. Or not, since it depends on the severity of the flashes versus the food/adult beverage you may not want to give up.
Spicy food, caffeine, and red wine are main culprits. And yes, they’re typically foods we love.
I live for my morning coffee, but it can trigger hot flashes. I decided it’s a small price to pay.
4. Change your workout time
If you note a particular time of the day seems more “flashy” than others, plan to exercise at another time and see if it helps.
You can also break up your workouts throughout the day. There’s no rule that you have to do a 30 or 60 minutes of consecutive exercise to reap the benefits.
5. Consider alternatives
Acupuncture is now mainstream and is a viable option if hot flashes are making you cray cray. No more weaving through beaded curtains and smokey back rooms to find a good practitioner.
In fact, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health found acupuncture reduced hot flashes by almost half for 50 percent of women over eight weeks of acupuncture treatment .
Have YOU found something that helped keep the fires at bay? If so, let me know in the comments below.
And please share this with your hot and flashy friends.
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Keeping the fan on high,