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Effects of physical activity on vasomotor symptoms: examination using objective and subjective measures

Elavsky, Steriani PhD1; Gonzales, Joaquin U. PhD2; Proctor, David N. PhD1; Williams, Nancy ScD1; Henderson, Victor W. MD, MS3

doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e31824f8fb8
Original Articles

Objective Physical activity (PA) is essential for successful aging and for the prevention and management of common chronic diseases. The empirical support for the beneficial effects of PA on vasomotor symptoms has, however, been mixed. The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of acute aerobic exercise and daily PA on menopausal vasomotor symptoms.

Methods Community-dwelling midlife women (N = 121; age range, 40-60 y) not using hormone therapy were recruited for a 15-day daily diary study. Women completed psychological, cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and hormonal status screening followed by a 15-day prospective assessment in a “real-life” setting using a personal digital assistant. Participants also completed a 30-minute moderate-intensity aerobic exercise bout on a treadmill between days 5 and 8. Daily PA was assessed objectively through accelerometry, and all symptomatic women (n = 92) completed two 24-hour Biolog sternal skin conductance recordings of hot flashes (HFs)—one at baseline and one immediately after treadmill exercise.

Results Both total objective (P = 0.054) and total subjective (P < 0.05) HFs decreased after the acute exercise bout. At the between-person level, daily PA was not associated with self-reported HFs. However, at the within-person level, performing more moderate physical activity than usual was associated with more self-reported HFs in women with lower fitness levels.

Conclusions Moderate aerobic exercise decreases objective and subjective HFs 24 hours after exercise; however, in women with lower fitness levels, more daily moderate PA leads to more self-reported symptoms.

From the 1Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA; 2Deparment of Health, Exercise and Sport Sciences, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX; and 3Departments of Health Research & Policy (Epidemiology) and Neurology & Neurological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Received November 19, 2011; revised and accepted February 2, 2012.

Funding/support: This study was supported by Grant K 12HD055882, “Career Development Program in Women’s Health Research at Penn State,” from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (PI: Weisman) and by pilot funds from the Social Sciences Research Institute and Center on Population Health and Aging at Pennsylvania State University.

Financial disclosure/conflicts of interest: None reported.

The data were collected with the assistance of the General Clinical Research Center at Pennsylvania State University.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.

S. Elavsky is the recipient of the 2009-2011 NAMS Mentorship Award.

Address correspondence to: Steriani Elavsky, PhD, Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University, 268-B Recreation Building, University Park, PA 16802. E-mail:

©2012The North American Menopause Society