Evidence That Exercise Reduces Hot Flashes Still Lacking

January 11, 2015

Go ahead and recommend exercise for overall health benefits, but don't advise patients that exercise can reduce hot flashes and night sweats during menopause.

Inconsistent data from poorly designed studies means scientists still don’t know whether exercise is effective in reducing hot flashes and night sweats during menopause, a meta-analysis concluded.

Of five studies that the Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group reviewed, there was insufficient evidence supporting the idea that exercise reduces hot flashes for menopausal women. And one small study suggested that hormone therapy was more effective than exercise.

Key Points:

- There isn’t enough good evidence to support using exercise as a means of easing hot flashes in menopausal women, a meta-analysis of five studies concluded.

- Exercise should be recommended to improve overall health, and it may be beneficial in helping to improve sleep in menopausal women.

The lack of evidence is important, because as women seek alternatives to hormone therapy, clinicians want to offer evidence-based guidance to patients dealing with the most common symptom of menopause, the reviewers noted. While lifestyle changes, such as exercising, may improve overall health and potentially sleep, current research doesn’t support its effectiveness in easing hot flashes.

The five randomly controlled trials included in the review involved a total of 733 women. One study compared exercise with no active treatment, another looked at exercise versus yoga, and yet another looked at exercise with the addition of hormone therapy. Those in the hormone therapy group reported significantly fewer flushes in a 24-hour period than the exercise group (mean difference, 5.8; 95% CI, 3.17 to 8.43; 14 participants).

The reviewers found that the study designs were inconsistent, lacked precision, and failed to detail the methods used in conducting the study. While none of the trials found differences with respect to adverse effects, the reviewers again judged the data to be scant and of low quality.

There was one study that found that women who exercised benefited more than women who didn't exercise, but the numbers were so small that they couldn’t be included in the meta-analysis, the reviewers said. In addition, the study included another variable by specifying the consumption of soy milk. The study had three groups: exercise plus soy milk, soy milk only, and control.