Thursday, June 28, 2012

Exercise Your Hot Flashes Away?

It's the M word. Some women hate it, some women welcome it: menopause. However you feel about it, if you're a woman, it's going to happen to you at some point.

It's quite interesting to hear women talk about their experiences with perimenopause, the time when the menstrual flow is shutting down, and menopause, the period after menstruation has stopped. Some women breeze through this time without any noticeable discomfort, while others are hit with everything that their body can throw at them.

Among the most common complaints from women "of a certain age" are the hot flashes, or hot flushes. Again, not all women find them uncomfortable, but for many - these hot flashes are not only uncomfortable, they are nasty.

But what exactly is a hot flash? No one knows quite for sure, but the easiest way to explain it is that your body's thermostat has gone haywire for a while. One theory is that a woman's dropping level of estrogen may throw off the hypothalmus, the body's temperature regulator.

I love this definition of a hot flash, from WebMD: "A hot flash -- sometimes called a hot flush -- is a momentary sensation of heat that may be accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating. The cause of hot flashes is not known, but may be related to changes in circulation."

Really? Momentary? Tell that to some women who minding their own business, doing their jobs, perhaps sitting in a board room meeting or driving a bus, and they are suddenly overwhelmed with a hot flash that just won't stop.

What to do?

So, if you do have hot flashes, what can you do to lessen their frequency and/or severity. Is there anything? The good news is that there are some things that help some women. The bad news is you may have to do a lot of trial and error to find something that works for you.

Here are some of the more common suggestions:

- Limit your alcohol intake and watch if certain alcoholic beverages trigger more hot flashes. Some Women find red wine is a big trigger, but they can drink white wine with few resulting hot flashes;
- Don't smoke; 
- Avoid meals that are heavy or spicy. Eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large ones;
- Drink cold drinks instead of hot drinks;
- Exercise;
- Dress in layers, preferably cotton fabrics.

That last point brings up a press release issued today by Penn State researchers, who undertook a study looking at menopause and exercise. The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

According to the researchers, "menopausal women who exercise may experience fewer hot flashes in the 24 hours following physical activity." They came to this conclusion after studying 92 menopausal women who were between 40 and 59 years old. They were not on any hormone therapy at the time of the study.

Over 15 days, the women wore accelerometers that monitored how much physical activity they performed and a monitor that measured the moisture on their skin. The women also recorded if and when they experienced hot flashes throughout the day.

Since exercise tends to make people feel warmer, it wouldn't be odd to suspect that exercise may make hot flashes worse, but the researchers found that this didn't happen. In fact, on average, the women in the study who exercised the most experienced fewer hot flashes after afterward. "The women who were classified as overweight, having a lower level of fitness, or were experiencing more frequent or more intense hot flashes,  noticed the smallest reduction in symptoms," the press release said. 

"For women with mild to moderate hot flashes, there is  no reason to avoid physical activity for the fear of making symptoms worse," said Steriani Elavsky, assistant professor of kinesiology at Penn State. "In fact, physical activity may be helpful, and is certainly the best way to maximize health as women age."

Some hot flash good news?

As uncomfortable as hot flashes may be, they may be good for something. According to a study published last year, researchers found - among the estimated 60,000 women they studied - that women who experienced hot flashes and night sweats while going into menopause had an 11 percent lower risk of developing heart disease later on in life. In addition, they had an eight percent lower chance of dying over the 10 years following the study. You can read more about it in this Time magazine article: The Hot Flashes of Menopause May Protect Women's Hearts, by Alice Park.

Do you have hot flashes? Do they bother you? How do you manage them?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Drowning Isn't Noisy

From what I've read, a common refrain from many people who were in an area when there was a drowning is something like, "I didn't hear a thing." Sadly, when someone drowns, you don't hear anything. Drowning is silent. Drowning isn't like in the movies, where people wave and shout for help, saying things like, "help! I'm drowning."

People who are drowning, if they get their head above water, need that split second to grab another gulp of air - they don't have the time or energy to shout for help. They silently slide under the water.

Drowning stats are horrifying. Drownings happen in the ocean, at the lake, in rivers and creeks, and in backyard swimming pools. If there's water, there is the potential for drowning and it is all so very preventable.

The topic caught my eye earlier than usual this year when I heard a news report last night that there were already 33 reported drownings this year in the province of Quebec. That is about 10 more than normal for this time of year. An expert on the topic was interviewed on TV and he said that the spike was likely due to the early hot weather we have been receiving.

According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S.,

  • From 2005-2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day. An additional 347 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.
  • About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
  • More than 50% of drowning victims treated in emergency departments (EDs) require hospitalization or transfer for further care (compared with a hospitalization rate of about 6% for all unintentional injuries).  These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g., permanent vegetative state).

So, what do we do?

Reducing the risk of drowning:

Playing at the pool or a beach

If you are with a child or someone with weak (or no) swimming ability, the basic rule is "an arm's length away." The non-swimmer should be no more than an arm's length away from you while in the water. You must be able to reach and grab without having to swim out to the distressed person.

Never keep your eyes off your child when he is in the water. Never. Ever. Just turning your head to chat with someone beside you puts your child in danger. If you can't see him, you won't see him going under. He's not going to tell you.

Obey the flags and the lifeguards. If it's not safe to swim, don't. Plain and simple.

Use the buddy system. If you are with a group of people, even if everyone is a swimmer, have a buddy system, where everyone has someone they will be swimming with or keeping an eye on them.

Put life jackets on non-swimming children. If you make it an everyday thing, "you're at the pool, you wear this jacket," they will see it as normal.

Don't rely on flotation devices. Yes, they are devices and they are meant to keep your child afloat and you want your nonswimmers to wear them. But they are merely tools and not a substitution for careful monitoring. Devices can break, come off, or just not work properly and you might not notice if your child's head goes under the water.

Don't allow screaming games in the water, particularly ones that have the players calling for help. If your child is screaming for play, how will you notice if the players are screaming at you for help if your child is drowning, or they're just playing?

Backyard pools

Never, ever, allow a child to swim alone. Ever. Even if she has taken swimming lessons. Someone must be able to see her while she is in the pool. Accidents happen too quickly.

If you are visiting a home with a pool and you have young children, designate an adult to always (always!) have an eye on the child or children. Of course, if it's a party or fun gathering, no one wants to have to do this all the time, so tag-team it. Have another adult resume responsibility but this must be said and acknowledged. If you are watching the children until 6:15, the person taking over must come to you and say, "OK, I am now watching the kids." Never assume that the next one up is doing it until they acknowledge they are doing it.

Secure the pool around all four sides and make off-time access very difficult. Not all residential areas have legal requirements for pool enclosures, making them an easy target for curious children or kids who want to have some fun without adult supervision. Whether your area requires four-side fencing or not, doesn't it make sense to do so? If you can't afford to have the fencing, can you really afford that pool?

Locks on the gates should be self-latching, so people don't have to remember to lock the gate. If you have an above ground pool, removing the ladder is also helpful. Many of these pools have big filters right beside them - perfect spots for climbing. Design your pool area so this can't happen. At the same time, don't leave lawn chairs and tables near the pool where they can be dragged over and used to get in.

Learn CPR. CPR is not difficult and it literally saves lives. Everyone should know CPR, but if you have a pool, it is even more important.

Any drowning is one too many.