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The Best Exercise For Your Thyroid and Hashimoto's

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

A man measuring his heart rate and activity

Exercise is a great support intervention for your thyroid and yet it’s something that most thyroid patients completely neglect. I did myself for many years, but now that I have improved and stabilised my Hashimoto's through diet and lifestyle, I am now able to bring more intense exercise into my weekly schedule and I have noticed a profound impact on my wellbeing.

The best thing about exercise, is that it isn't just valuable for your thyroid but it also benefits your entire body (of course, we all know this). So let’s review the benefits first and then I’ll explain the best exercises for your thyroid.

Benefit #1: Higher Free Thyroid Hormone Levels

You are taking thyroid medication to increase your thyroid hormone levels.

Exercise is a free (for the most part) way to obtain these benefits and it doesn’t require the use of prescription medications. It can be hard to exercise as a thyroid patient because of fatigue, but in a paradoxical way, exercising actually increases your energy overall by increasing thyroid function and research shows that exercise not only increases free T3 and free T4 but it also…

Benefit #2: Reduces TSH Levels

TSH is one of the main tests that doctors use to assess thyroid function and a high TSH is associated with low thyroid function. Again, this is huge because it means there’s something else that you as a thyroid patient can do to improve your thyroid and you can do this without having to increase your thyroid medication.

Benefit #3: Weight Loss

Exercise helps thyroid patients lose weight by balancing your hormones (including thyroid hormone), increasing lean muscle mass, and increasing metabolism.

Not only will exercise help you burn more calories but it will also balance those fat-storing hormones like leptin and insulin. Leptin, in particular, is a big problem for thyroid patients because both fat cells and thyroid hormones regulate it.

Leptin's main function is to help regulate the long-term balance between your body's food intake and energy use. Leptin helps inhibit hunger and regulate energy balance so that your body doesn't trigger a hunger response when it doesn't need energy.

The more overweight you are and the more thyroid dysfunction you may have, the more likely you are to be leptin resistant. Based on my experience, weight gain is one of the most troubling symptoms that thyroid patients face and the symptom that takes the longest to resolve. Exercise is one way to accelerate your weight loss efforts and make pretty much any weight loss therapy even more effective. But it isn't the only answer to weight loss - you can't out-run a poor diet.

Benefit #4: Increased Muscle Mass & Better Muscle Health Overall.

Your muscles are a major target of thyroid hormone action where they regulate thyroid hormone signalling. When thyroid hormone levels are low, you may start to experience muscle pain as a result. Exercising helps to increase muscle mass which can reduce muscle pain, improve your metabolism, and overall improve muscle health. It will also help with longevity and ageing because maintaining muscle mass is key if you want to thrive as you get older.

Benefit #5: Improved Mood

Thyroid patients frequently have issues with depression, irritability, and anxiety which can cycle back and forth. Consistent exercise helps you feel happier and makes you more tolerant of negative situations. It can improve your stress resilience and improve your mindset. In other words, it doesn’t force you to be happy but it makes dealing with the stressors of everyday life a whole lot easier. This means it’s far more likely that your mood will be balanced. It can also treat issues like brain fog which, again, many thyroid patients suffer from. So whether it’s mood, brain fog, or fatigue, exercise helps.

Benefit #6: More Consistent Bowel Movements

Exercise has been shown to treat constipation which is a problem that many thyroid patients suffer from. When thyroid hormone levels are low, bowel movements decrease and you develop constipation. If you’ve ever been constipated, you know that this is not a feeling you want to have stick around. Exercise increases lymphatic flow and can sort of act to massage the intestines which promotes the emptying of the bowels. The result is more frequent bowel movements and a better quality of life.

And, finally…

Benefit #7: A Reduction In Inflammation.

Obviously, you want to avoid and reduce inflammation in your body in any way you can, but it’s especially harmful for thyroid patients because it impacts thyroid gland health and T3 levels. Inflammation reduces T4 to T3 conversion which lowers T3 levels in the body and promotes thyroid gland damage in those with Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease. Exercise is an excellent treatment for hypothyroidism but also for all forms of autoimmune thyroid disease because of this.

How to Exercise Specifically For Your Thyroid

A group yoga class

It’s pretty clear that exercise is beneficial for thyroid patients so the question is not whether you should exercise but rather how should you exercise.

There are several different ways to think about this: The first is with intensity.

Based on available research, thyroid patients get the biggest boost to thyroid function when exercising at 70% of their maximal heart rate.

This level of exercise is right at the cusp of moderate to vigorous exercise based on the American heart association guidelines. Exercise between 50% to 70% of your maximal heart rate is considered moderate and 70-85% is considered vigorous.

Even though you get the MOST benefit at this 70% range for your thyroid, the reality is that you are still getting benefits at levels below 70% and at levels higher than 70%.

Around 90% is the point at which these benefits decline and at which they may start to harm your thyroid, and you may start to see a decline in your T3 thyroid hormone levels (both free T3 and total T3).

Higher levels of intensity, like 80%+ or higher or maximal heart rate, typically require high-intensity interval training to obtain. For this reason, it’s generally a good idea to avoid high-intensity interval training as a thyroid patient at least when you are first starting out. If you’ve been exercising for a long period of time and your body is already accustomed to HIIT training then you may be ok to continue doing it.

But if you are someone that is just starting out, it would most likely be best for you to start out at an intensity of around 40 to 50%.

It's always best for thyroid patients to start out low and go slow.

The worst thing you could do is start out at an intensity level that is higher than your body can manage which would then cause a decline in thyroid hormone and disrupt other hormones in your body.

The Best Type of Exercise For Thyroid Health

The next way to think about exercise is related to the type of exercise.

And here we have endurance, aerobic, strength training, flexibility and mobility etc.

For a thyroid patient, the absolute best combination of exercises will be aerobic training plus strength training. The aerobic component is the easiest way to get your heart rate to its desired intensity level. And strength training for its benefits on muscle mass, metabolism, bone health, and longevity. By strength training, I mean added weight beyond your own body weight and beyond the force of gravity. A little added weight can go a long way to helping you build muscle mass and protect your bones.

A good sample exercise routine would be something like 1-2 days a week of strength training and 3-4 sessions of aerobic exercise with a goal to get your heart rate to the 50% to 70% range.

If you can get your heart rate to that 50% to 70% range with yoga, then go for it, if you prefer a brisk walk/jog, biking, swimming, or whatever, it doesn’t matter, so long as your heart rate gets to that level and stays there for at least 20-30 minutes.

I can show you how to measure your heart rate percentage, so you know when you're doing the right and best exercise for you.

Managing Your Thyroid Symptoms So You Can Exercise

Obviously, your thyroid symptoms need to be taken into consideration, as they can impact your ability to do the exercise in the first place. First and foremost is lack of energy / fatigue, but muscle and joint pain will also be an issue.

So, if that’s you, and you aren’t sure where to start, or it’s difficult to start, then just start with walking. Even moving the big muscles of your body for 20-30 minutes per day will have a positive impact on thyroid function and cortisol.

The amazing thing about your body is that it’s adaptive so as long as you are putting a small amount of pressure on the body, it will adapt and you will become stronger.

We’re running a marathon, not a sprint here. So make sure whatever exercise you choose, it’s something that you can be consistent with for a long time.

Final Thoughts

Exercising is one of the easiest and fastest ways to improve your thyroid and it’s a therapy that not enough thyroid patients are taking seriously.

Not only is it important for your thyroid but it will have all sorts of profound benefits on your entire body.

While exercise is incredibly important for supporting your thyroid, it’s not the only thing you should be doing.

Make sure you are also eating the right foods, getting enough sleep, taking the right supplements, and managing your stress.

If you feel ready and want to get started on supporting your autoimmunity, reducing your symptoms and optimising the function and health of your body, with accountability and support to do it properly, then why not take the first step and book a Complimentary Autoimmune Wellness Review here.

All my best,

A woman cycling a long the river

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