Feeling a hot flash coming on? Take a deep breath. Many health care professionals encourage women to use slow breathing – also known as paced respiration – to ease hot flash symptoms. But does it work?
The results are actually mixed. A new study out of Indiana University found that paced respiration didn’t provide any relief for uncomfortable hot flashes. A total of 288 women participated in this study and were assigned into three groups. The first group, comprised of 88 women, was asked to use the slow breathing approach when they had a hot flash. A second group, made up of 86 women, was asked to take quick and shallow breaths when they had a hot flash. The third group of 44 women behaved as they normally did when they had a hot flash.
The three groups were assessed eight weeks into the experiment and again at the 16-week mark. Researchers found that some women in all three groups had fewer hot flashes per day; however, no differences emerged between the three groups in the size of this change. The three groups also saw similar changes when their hot flashes decreased over time and how much these hot flashes bothered the women in the groups.
But not everybody agrees. An article published in the July/August 2012 issue of The Female Patient cited research positive about the technique. The authors noted that the paced respiration is often used as one of several treatment components, such as hypnosis, mindfulness-based stress reduction, relaxation-based cognitive behavioral interventions or relaxation that’s associated with yoga. They also suggest that paced respiration at six to eight breaths per minute is a promising option as long as women are willing to be committed to taking the necessary practice time – which is recommended at 15 minutes twice a day – and also to apply this type of breathing when hot flashes occur.
So should you give up on slow breathing to deal with hot flashes? I’m not a medical doctor, but I think these exercises won’t hurt you unless you have other health concerns such as respiratory issues. For one thing, the research out of Indiana University is a small study so it can’t be generalized; larger studies need to be done to confirm their findings. And there’s no cost for trying this technique.
Furthermore, breathing exercises are good for your overall health. “Breathing exercises are a wonderful way to reduce anxiety, agitation and stress, while promoting relaxation, calm and inner peace,” said Dr. Andrew Weil, a clinical professor of medicine and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. “It may take some practice - and requires some commitment on your part to achieve results. However, the long-term benefits are well worth the effort - a calm and relaxed body and mind are less prone to health issues.”
Dr. Weil also recommends breathing more deeply through exhaling completely. To do so, you need to take a deep breath and then exhale effortlessly. Once you think you’re finished, try to squeeze out a little more exhalation. “Doing this regularly will help build up the muscles between your ribs, and your exhalations will naturally become deeper and longer,” the doctor said. “Start by practicing this exhalation exercise consciously, and eventually it will become a healthy, unconscious habit.”