Physical activity and the thyroid
How to exercise while having Hashimoto’s and an underactive thyroid
Everyone knows that physical activity is a solid basis for having and maintaining a healthy body. We should all try to have as much physical activity as possible in our weekly routine.
Sometimes your body prevents you from exercising — then you’re at risk of hypothyroidism symptoms worsening and having even less chance to engage in any physical activity.
Yet there are things that can be done to improve health and to enable you to be capable of doing physical activity.
First, here’s a short recap of the benefits and traps of physical activity when having an underactive thyroid and Hashimoto’s.
Benefits of exercising while having Hashimoto’s
1. Healthy immune system
Regular exercise improves immune health, you’ll become more resilient to common colds and flu (1). It also reduces inflammation, AKA autoimmune flare-ups, in the body (2, 3).
2. Regulating weight
Exercise will keep your body more lean, which is important because fat is known to trigger continuous symptom flare-ups by promoting inflammation in the body (4).
3. Reducing stress
High stress levels are found in people with an underactive thyroid (5). Exercise diminishes stress.
Traps of exercising while having Hashimoto’s
People with underactive thyroid or Hashimoto’s should avoid high intensity, lengthy, or too frequent exercise.
Over-exercising uses up most of the T3 in the body — this will make it hard to complete even basic daily functions like working, focusing, remembering, and memorizing (6, 7).
Reduce frequency of exercise and allow one to two days of rest between your exercise routines, which will make it possible for the T3 levels in your body to restore (6).
Exercising or engaging in physical activity is not always easy.
If you have Hashimoto’s and are overweight:
Engaging in some exercise routines, like running (especially on a treadmill in the gym) will likely wear out your cartilage in joints and can damage your bones. Swimming can be a good option, as it doesn’t put pressure on bones and joints (however chlorine in the pool is not ideal). As for gym equipments, an elliptical trainer will likely be okay as your feet are moving together with the machine.
If you have Hashimoto’s and bone or muscle pain:
It’s important to know where exactly pain comes from — injury or a part of Hashimoto’s many symptoms.. Bear in mind when choosing your routines Hashimoto’s can make tendons and joints more prone to injury. Don’t exercise until injuries are completely healed. Swimming might be helpful, as you can manage to avoid exercising the part of your body that’s hurting. Short walks in nature where you can breathe fresh air and gain the psychological benefits of being in green space can help as well. Talk to your doctor about taking painkillers.
If you have Hashimoto’s and are pregnant
Pregnancy can put more strain on your body, muscles, bones, and the immune system. It’s the best to talk to your doctor about what exercises you should engage in or avoid.
What to do when physical activity is not possible? How to restart?
Have you have tried it all and nothing is going as planned? There are times when Hashimoto’s causes very bad symptoms and can prevents you from engaging in hardly any physical activity outside of even sports or exercise. This can be the time to reflect on the body and take a few smaller, but significant, steps to make sure you recover in order to become more active again.
Hashimoto’s recovery optimization
1. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol is mostly a part of a weekly or monthly routine. Alcohol hijacks the body’s metabolism and as a result it makes you tired quicker than normally. Alcohol also reduces the amount of high quality, or REM sleep, the body needs to prepare for the next day (8, 9). Alcohol makes it more difficult to exercise muscles and can cause muscle aches and cramps (10–12). Even with sporadic alcohol use, muscles start showing signs of inflammation and may contribute to other symptoms you feel (13).
2. Sleep well
Make sure you have enough good quality and duration of sleep. Not enough sleep will make you more hungry and put you at risk of gaining weight (14). Try to improve your sleep quality by removing your smartphone from your bedtime routine, keeping your room cooler and fully dark, and avoid heavy foods a few hours before you go to bed, or altogether an hour before you go to bed.
3. Reduce sugars and bad fat
While omega-3 and omega-6 are important for some of the basic body functions, processed foods are packed with the unhealthy versions of fats and sugars that put the body at risk for many heart problems. Sugars are addictive — sports have been suggested as one of the best ways to curb this addiction (15).
4. Increase the number of antioxidant molecules in your body
Antioxidants prevent, or at least delay, the damage in the body caused by by-products of bad fat and sugar metabolism. Antioxidants help prevent muscle aches and gut inflammation — this includes vitamins B-betacarotene, C, and E (16), as well as melatonin, which is a hormone normally present in the body (17).
The body can’t produce vitamins B, C and E, so you need to get them from foods. The best options are whole, non-processed foods; including onion, garlic, green tea, cinnamon, turmeric, gooseberry, and ginger (18). Oils to avoid are cottonseed, canola, safflower, sunflower, and soy. They’re highly processed, and have trans-fats, which are damaging your blood vessels, heart, muscles, and brain (19).
5. Warm up
Taking a warm shower before physical activity can help with both rising your body temperature and making your muscles and tendons more elastic. Spending more time on stretching and preparing for exercise can be helpful for avoiding injury (20).
Track the intensity and the duration of exercise in BOOST Thyroid app.Try to see if you’re able to strengthen your exercise routine through time and thus improve your symptoms.
You can also try sticking to one exercise routine for two weeks while tracking your energy, focus, and sleep levels — this can help you find your optimal exercise zone. If you’ve found your great zone, please fill in our survey. We will publish updated results soon.
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Kubo K, et al. Effects of different duration isometric contractions on tendon elasticity in human quadriceps muscles, 2001