Exercising With Thyroid Disorders
Exercise is hands down one of the most beneficial things that you can do for your body. It staves off weight gain, helps you build lean muscle mass, and can even enhance your mood and mental wellbeing.
It literally improves every aspect of your health.
As I said, it is the most beneficial thing you can do for your body – period.
However, it is still important to realize that there are certain disorders that can make it a little more challenging to exercise – even despite the fact that exercise will still offer a myriad of health benefits to sufferers.
These disorders need to be both well-understood and paid close attention too, to ensure that any exercise you choose to implement is both safe and effective.
And Thyroid Disorders fit this bill perfectly.
What are thyroid disorders?
Your thyroid is a small gland that sits at the base of your neck, hidden just below your Adam’s apple. Most commonly recognized by its ‘butterfly’ shape, this tiny gland is an extremely important part of your endocrine system.
You see, your thyroid gland is where you make and secrete the two key hormones that regulate your metabolic rate. The thyroid hormones are:
- Triiodothyronine (or T3 for short)
- Thyroxine (or T4 for short)
With this in mind, thyroid disorders ultimately occur when the thyroid gland secretes either too little or too much, of these hormones.
What is a hypothyroid disorder?
A hypothyroid disorder (also known as hypothyroidism) occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, which essentially slows down your metabolic rate. This can result in the following signs and symptoms:
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Declines in mood, and even depression
- Feeling cold
- Unexplainable weight gain
- Slowed heart rate
- Muscle stiffness, aches, and tenderness
Here in America, Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
Related Article: Homocysteine Levels: How They Affect Your Health
What is a hyperthyroid disorder?
Conversely, a hyperthyroid disorder (also known as hyperthyroidism) occurs when your thyroid gland becomes overactive and begins to secrete too much thyroid hormone. This speeds up your metabolic rate, and can result in the following symptoms:
- Increased appetite
- Fidgeting and restlessness
- Inability to concentrate
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Trouble sleeping
- Hair loss
- Rapid and unexplainable weight loss
It is important to note that Graves disease is currently one of the most common forms of hyperthyroidism in the world.
What are the benefits of exercising with thyroid disease?
Given the fact that exercise is often considered as the first point of treatment for nearly every illness on the planet, you might be wondering “Does exercise help thyroid problems?”.
And in short, yes it does.
You see, exercise appears to help modulate thyroid function.
This means that regular physical activity may have the ability to help keep your thyroid hormones within a normal range, which can have merit for both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism (Chatterjee, 2017).
But the way in which it is implemented is of the utmost importance.
Exercise and hypothyroidism
First and foremost, we will touch on the benefits of exercise with hypothyroidism.
As I have already stated, hypothyroidism can result in reductions in energy, weight gain, and declines in mental state. While each of these are indeed challenging on their own, collectively they can become unbearable.
However, a combination of aerobic training and resistance exercise can improve upon each of these factors at an individual level.
As a result, exercise has been shown to cause substantial improvements in the signs and symptoms of people suffering from hypothyroidism. Additionally, it causes large improvements in their reported quality of life (Werneck, 2018).
In summary, it offers them a heap of benefit – especially when used in conjunction with traditional medication and dietary intervention (Bansal, 2015).
Now, can I exercise with Hashimoto’s Disease?
Well, this is where things get a little bit interesting.
You see, people suffering from Hashimoto’s Disease tend to be very deconditioned. In general, their high levels of fatigue often mean that they lack the energy required to exercise in the first place. As a result, literally, any form of exercise can be quite challenging for them.
And to make matters even worse, highly intense exercise has actually been shown to decrease thyroid levels even further (Ciloglu, 2005).
This means that if you want to start reaping the rewards of exercise, and you have Hashimoto’s disease, you need to start very slowly. You see, while exercise will indeed have some apparent benefits, doing too much too early will not be a good thing.
Consequently, low-intensity aerobic exercise, and yoga, both offer a fantastic starting point (Nilakanthan, 2016).
Exercise and hyperthyroidism
Secondly, let’s touch on the benefits of exercise with hyperthyroidism.
If you are suffering from hyperthyroidism, your metabolism is already elevated. This means that your energy expenditure is high all the time. This can lead to weight loss, declines in muscle mass, and even reductions in bone density.
This means that long duration aerobic exercise is probably not a great choice of exercise, because it can expedite this process further.
With this in mind, resistance training is the perfect medium.
Resistance training can improve muscle mass, regulate metabolism, and increase bone mineral density – all of which will go a very long way to mitigating the effects of hyperthyroidism (Bousquet-Santos, 2006).
Now, can I exercise with Grave’s Disease?
To put it simply, yes.
However, much like hyperthyroidism, it appears that some modalities of exercise are much safer than others.
Long duration aerobic activity is still out of the question, while resistance training is obviously still a great choice.
Interestingly, there is research to suggest that exercise options such as yoga and tai chi may also offer a whole heap of benefit.
These exercise modalities not only have the potential to place good stress the cardiovascular and muscular systems, but they can also help mitigate some of the nervousness caused by a hyperactive thyroid by calming the mind and relaxing the body – which is ideal in this scenario.
The best exercises for thyroid disorders
To maximize the health benefits of exercise, we know that you need (WHO, 2011):
- A minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week
- A minimum of two sessions of resistance training per week, that focuses on all major muscle groups per session
However, if you are suffering from a thyroid disorder, then I would argue that this needs to be tweaked somewhat. At least until the severity of the disorder is improved through a combination of diet and medication.
With this in mind, I would recommend the following:
Best exercises for hypothyroidism
Individuals suffering from hypothyroidism should strive for 150 minutes of light to moderate intensity aerobic activity per week. This could be walking, running, cycling, or swimming – it doesn’t really matter.
The key comes with trying to keep your heart rate below 70% of your maximum (which can be calculated very easily using this equation: [208 – 0.7 x age in years]), to avoid causing any further declines in thyroid secretion.
Additionally, I would also aim to get in 2-3 sessions of yoga per week.
This type of exercise has the capacity to improve muscle strength and endurance without eliciting too much fatigue – which is extremely important in this population.
Best exercises for hyperthyroidism
Alternatively, individuals who are suffering from hyperthyroidism may want to steer clear of too much moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, as it may increase their daily energy output even further (which can exacerbate many of their symptoms).
As a result, resistance training 3-4 times per week may offer a much better option, as it has the ability to build muscle, regulate metabolism, and increase bone density.
Moreover, if this is combined with a more relaxing mode of aerobic exercise like tai chi or yoga, you have a recipe for success.
Related Article: Achieve Optimal Bone Health With High-Intensity Interval Training
Will my exercise-life be impacted by a thyroid disorder?
Finally, I just wanted to outline some of the things you can expect if you intend on exercise with a thyroid disorder.
Arguably the biggest barrier to exercise in this manner relates to hypothyroidism and exercise fatigue.
In short, you will get tired quick.
Hypothyroidism is associated with low energy levels and the early onset of physical fatigue. Because of this, your total tolerance for exercise will be much lower than it would be under normal circumstances.
Therefore, it is so important to start slow.
Conversely, a common symptom of hyperthyroidism is a chronically elevated heart rate. As a result, during exercise, you may experience abnormal heart rhythms or an extremely rapid increase in heart rate.
Hence the reason that resistance training may offer a better option until you have got your more severe symptoms under control.
Take Home Message
In conclusion, both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can wreak absolute havoc with your body and your metabolism (albeit, in completely opposite directions).
Therefore, while exercising with thyroid disorders does indeed have the potential to improve health and function in a big way. It needs to be implemented very carefully so that it does not exacerbate any associated symptoms.
Which is why we have gone ahead and provided quite a bit of information on the topic!
If you have a thyroid disorder and have had any experience with exercise, we would love to hear from you – so drop us a comment and we will get back to you ASAP.
Chatterjee, Sridip, and Samiran Mondal. “Effect of a combined yoga program on blood levels of thyroid hormones: A quasi-experimental study.” (2017).
Werneck et al. “Exercise training improves quality of life in women with subclinical hypothyroidism: a randomized clinical trial”. Archives of Endocrinology and Metabolism (2018).
Bansal, Akash, et al. “The effect of regular physical exercise on the thyroid function of treated hypothyroid patients. An interventional study at a tertiary care center in Bastar region of India.” Archives of Medicine and Health Sciences 3.2 (2015): 244.
Ciloglu, Figen, et al. “Exercise intensity and its effects on thyroid hormones.” Neuroendocrinology letters 26.6 (2005): 830-834.
Bousquet-Santos, Kelb, et al. “Resistance training improves muscle function and body composition in patients with hyperthyroidism.”. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation 87.8 (2006): 1123-1130.
Nilakanthan, Savitri, et al. “Effect of 6 months intense Yoga practice on lipid profile. Thyroxine medication and serum TSH level in women suffering from hypothyroidism. A pilot study.” .Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine 13.2 (2016): 189-193.
World health organization (WHO). “Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health: 18-64 years old” (2011).