Sedentary Lifestyle Linked to More Nighttime Menopausal Hot Flashes

A high-view photograph of a woman in white pajamas in her bed, her covers are pushed down to the bottom and she looks uncomfortbale.


Key Takeaways

  • Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause, affecting approximately 80% of people going through the transition.
  • According to a recent study, a sedentary lifestyle may lead to more nighttime hot flashes, which can have a negative effect on a person’s quality of life and even play a role in their cardiovascular disease risk.
  • While there appeared to be a link between being less active and having more hot flashes, the researchers were surprised that moderate-to-vigorous levels of physical activity did not seem to be linked to hot flash frequency.

The transition to menopause can come with a range of symptoms, including weight gain, thinning hair, dry skin, and mood changes. Many people also experience intense moments of heat called hot flashes, especially at night when they’re trying to sleep.

If you’re going through menopause and having hot flashes, you might be looking for a way to relieve or even prevent the uncomfortable, disruptive symptom.

If you’re in the midst of a hot flash, working up a sweat at the gym is probably the last thing you’d expect to make you feel better. However, according to new research, being sedentary might make your hot flashes more frequent.

Hot Flashes During Menopause 

Imagine feeling comfortable one moment, then experiencing a wave of heat overcoming your body the next. When a person has a hot flash, they may feel extremely warm and get sweaty. Their face can also turn red and become flushed.

When hot flashes occur at night, they can disrupt sleep, which in turn has a negative effect on daytime functioning, mental health, and quality of life.

A relationship between symptoms of depression and subjective sleep disturbances has also been documented in people going through the menopausal transition.

Why Do Hot Flashes Happen?

The cause of hot flashes is not fully understood, but experts believe that the symptom is likely related to the hormonal changes that occur during menopause.

About 80% of people experience hot flashes during menopause.

“We know that the hypothalamus, which controls our body temperature, is sensitive to the decrease in estrogen as we approach menopause,” Carmen Stansberry, MSN, FNP-C, WHNP-BC, a California-based family and women’s health nurse practitioner, tells Verywell. “This, in turn, causes the release of other chemical messengers in the body that attempts to cool the body down through perspiration.”

The Effect of a Sedentary Lifestyle

Hot flashes are a source of discomfort, but research has also shown that hot flashes and night sweats are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s yet another reason why it’s so important to find ways to alleviate hot flashes for people during menopause.

For the new study, which was presented at the North American Menopause Society Annual Meeting in September, researchers wanted to investigate whether lifestyle factors, including activity levels, had an effect on the incidence of hot flashes throughout the menopausal transition.

To find out, the researchers evaluated 13 premenopausal, 29 perimenopausal, and 24 postmenopausal women who were 45 to 55 years old. The researchers asked the women about their experiences with hot flashes and measured their daily physical activity levels.

The study found a link between the amount of time that the women were sedentary and the frequency of their hot flashes. Specifically, participating in approximately 3.3 additional hours of sedentary behavior increased the occurrence of hot flashes by 1 nighttime hot flash in a 24-hour cycle.

Physical Activity and Hot Flashes

The researchers were surprised that they did not find an association between the participants’ subjective hot flash frequency and the amount of any form of physical activity that they engaged in.

Therefore, while sedentary behavior might be associated with the frequency of nighttime hot flashes, time spent participating in a moderate or vigorous activity did not appear to have any effect.

Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD

Women with hot flashes should take note of these encouraging findings.

— Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD

“While this study had a small sample of women over a short duration of time, it still reinforces that light activity—such as shopping, gardening, and staying active—can have a direct impact on the prevalence of hot flashes, and possibly even cardiovascular disease,” says Stansberry. “The bottom line is, you may not necessarily need a vigorous workout to impact vascular dysfunction, which has an effect on blood pressure and other early CVD risk factors. 

Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD, co-author of “The Menopause Diet Plan: A Natural Guide to Hormones, Health, and Happiness,” tells Verywell that “women with hot flashes should take note of these encouraging findings that found that simply moving around more during the day—without doing moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise—helps decrease the frequency of nighttime hot flashes.” 

Ward says that people going through menopause should still exercise on most days of the week for their heart health, to help them get better sleep, and to reduce stress—regardless of whether it alleviates their hot flashes. 

How to Naturally Reduce Hot Flashes

In addition to being more active during the day, there are also other natural ways to handle hot flashes. That said, the things that trigger hot flashes can be different from one person to the next, which is why Stansberry says the process of finding what works can be “trial and error.”

Stansberry says to start by identifying your hot flash triggers (which could be things like spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine) and try to avoid them if you can. Ward adds that “smoking is a known risk factor for hot flashes, and quitting may help reduce the symptoms.”

There are also some things that you can start doing or continue to do that may give you some relief from hot flashes. For example, Stansberry suggests adding more plant estrogens (like soybeans) to your diet, which “have also been shown to decrease hot flash occurrence." 

According to results from the Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms, a plant-based diet that is rich in soy may reduce the frequency of hot flashes by nearly 84%.

It’s also important to take care of your mental health. Ward says that a type of talk therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) might help decrease hot flashes, but can also “help improve mood, sleep, and quality of life.”

As for other natural approaches to coping with hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, some people find alternative methods like acupuncture helpful.

Stansberry says that research on menopause is “not robust, to say the least,” but that as more studies are published, “the cause of hot flashes and how they relate to overall health will become more clear.” Once researchers have that clarity, the hope is that “more targeted preventative therapies and treatments” will soon follow.

In the meantime, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle will benefit your health beyond menopause, and it may even help you cope with hot flashes as you make the transition.  

What This Means For You

If you’re going through menopause, making some changes to your lifestyle may ease nighttime hot flashes. Not spending too much time being sedentary, adding more plant-based foods to your diet, and quitting smoking are just a few examples of lifestyle changes that may help reduce hot flashes.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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