Exercising Safely and Effectively with a Thyroid Disorder
I get a lot (a lot) of questions about how to exercise with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s. Or whether to exercise at all, especially given the fatigue, pain, and inflammation that so many experience.
I recently got introduced to Andrea Wool and it was like—bingo. If anyone can adequately answer these questions, she can.
We’re very much aligned in our “less is more” and “this doesn’t mean you can never do more intense exercise later” philosophies but Andrea certainly has a leg up (no pun intended) in the advice category—she’s a personal trainer and is not only a Hashimoto’s sufferer, but has also experienced the pain of fibromyalgia.
Andrea is my new hero.
She’s been so excited about Lisa’s and my cookbook and is lovingly sharing it with her followers. Lemme tell you, it’s nice to find kindred souls in this health and wellness community.
Anyway, she’s the founder of Autoimmune Strong, an online exercise program designed for people living with autoimmunity, fibromyalgia, and other types chronic pain and illness. As a personal trainer, she designed this program for her own healing when she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s along with celiac disease and fibromyalgia. Now, she shares her message of strength and empowerment with women all over the world.
This is a guest post by Andrea, not an affiliate promotion, and she’s not selling anything here. She simply wants to offer a message of empowerment to Healthful Elements readers and we are so grateful for her wisdom.
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Hi, I’m Andrea, founder of Autoimmune Strong, and I know firsthand how difficult it can be to exercise with a thyroid disorder. I live with Hashimoto’s disease and have struggled for years to find the right exercise program for my body.
You see, Thyroid + Exercise can be a tricky combination.
The thyroid gland largely controls our metabolism, which has a major effect on how exercise impacts the body. Some people struggle with hyperthyroid, which means that their thyroid is overactive. For many of these people, they feel anxious, jittery, and irritable and traditional exercise has not been possible, as they worry that they’ll lose too much weight.
Others struggle with hypothyroid, which means that their thyroid is underactive. They may feel sluggish and exhausted and exercise seems impossible.
But surprisingly, for both categories of thyroid disorders, exercise can actually help to manage symptoms. The key is to exercise the RIGHT way—to prevent pain, injury, and symptom flare-ups.
For both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, the same important rules and restrictions apply.
Here are my tips for exercising safely and effectively, no matter which condition you may have.
First, remember that exercise is not just for weight management. When we think of exercise, the first thing many think of is weight loss, right? And that’s not an incorrect association; weight management can happen with the use of exercise, especially for people with hypothyroid issues. But it’s important to remember that exercise has many more benefits than just weight management. With the right program, your heart and lungs will be stronger and more effective, you’ll have better circulation, getting more oxygen and other essential nutrients to your body.
Let us not forget that exercise can help produce “happy chemicals” like serotonin and dopamine that help reduce anxiety and depression and can help you manage stress levels. Your bones and muscles get stronger with exercise, and you become more capable of doing physical activity that perhaps eluded you before. And you’ll sleep better too!
Next, know that not all exercise is created equal for people with thyroid disorders. In order to reap these benefits, we thyroid warriors need to make sure we exercise in the RIGHT way for our bodies. This means that we need to control the amount of effort because too much intensity will aggravate the thyroid instead of supporting it. If we work too hard, our thyroid will also have to work too hard, and we don’t want that.
HIIT workouts (high intensity interval training), spinning, long bouts of cardio, crossfit, and WODs (workout of the day) are some of the types of activities that can be really hard on a person with a malfunctioning thyroid.
But no fear—it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed for a life of low impact exercise forever. It just means that for a little while, you need to keep exercise simple and effective.
The point is to get accustomed to a little bit of movement and intensity, and then build up the intensity slowly over time. This will give your body some time to adapt. It has taken me two years, but I finally got back to spinning and HIIT training, without flare-up, pain, or exhaustion.
So follow these tips below to get started on exercising in a healthful and safe way for your thyroid.
Exercise every day, but for shorter time periods.
Frequent exercise with short durations are the best types for people with thyroid disorders. Daily movement can significantly reduce the risk of flare-up, while short exercise periods allow your body to get strong without getting overtaxed.
Focus on exercises that strengthen your stabilization muscles.
Since those of us with thyroid malfunction are at a greater risk for flare-ups, we want to make sure we select the most effective strengthening moves possible. For example, most people with chronic pain struggle with back, neck, and hip pain. Often, this pain is misinterpreted. Most yoga teachers, physical therapists, and personal trainers will try to stretch these areas out in order to eliminate the pain. But that technique rarely works. Instead, try using strengthening moves in the core and glutes in order to reduce the pain and inflammation in the back, neck, and hip.
A good exercise routine should include both stretching AND strengthening exercises.
No muscle works in isolation; instead, muscles all work in conjunction with each other. Some muscles are too weak, and some are too tight. A good exercise program should be stretching the tight muscles while simultaneously strengthening the weak muscles. Doing one without the other will not be effective.
Find an exercise program with an instructor who’s knowledgeable about thyroid disorders.
Many fitness instructors, personal trainers, and yoga teachers don’t know how to work with your body. Before you commit to a program, make sure your instructor is someone who knows about the medical benefits and challenges your body will face so they can guide you towards safe and effective movement.
Be sure to breathe during your workouts.
Often, those of us living with chronic pain hold our breath. You probably don’t even know you’re doing it. We do it unconsciously to protect ourselves—our bodies often stiffen up when we feel pain and discomfort. And breathing is extremely important—getting oxygen flowing can reduce pain and give us energy.
And…when we’re relaxed and breathing deeply, our bodies experience less stress, which reduces inflammation and increases our ability to exercise without risk of pain or flare-up. It’s a win-win!
So, to put this tip into practice, make sure you check in with yourself throughout the day, and remind yourself to breathe. You can even set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself. Over time, these check-ins will turn into habits, and you’ll remember to breathe deeply on your own.
Take it from me—following these tips can really help you get back to an everyday, consistently challenging fitness lifestyle!