(last updated Jun 14, 2020)

The thyroid gland may be a small endocrine gland, located in the front of the neck, but it plays a big role in controlling the body’s metabolism. They determine the rate at which the body burns calories, which affects weight loss and gain. They also keeps the body warm and controls muscle contraction.

When you have hypothyroidism — a condition where the thyroid gland is under-active — your body’s metabolism slows down. Weight gain, constant fatigue, joint pain and an intolerance to cold are common symptoms of hypothyroidism. Participating in regular exercise can help manage the symptoms and make you feel better. 

Below are 5 Exercise Tips to help you get started:

1. Start Pilates

When you are easily tired due to the effects of hypothyroidism, you want to start slow. Pilates let you start slow, yet offers a full-body workout, so that you work all the major muscle groups of the body.

PILATES, GOOD FOR BEGINNERS

Pilates is often associated with exercises on the mat. But Pilates is also performed on equipment (or apparatus.) You can find the different apparatus like the reformer, trapeze table and chair in a Pilates studio. For beginners, the apparatus are assistive. They allow you to perform an exercise, which you would otherwise have trouble with, either due to tight or weak muscles, with relative ease. If you have been struggling with core exercises for example, enjoy abdominal exercises more with the help of the apparatus. Over time, as you become stronger and more flexible, you would need less assistance. Pilates is good for beginners, as it is gentle on the body. The different Pilates apparatus ease you into the exercise.

Gentle workout for hypothyroidism
Pilates, a gentle full-body workout for hypothyroidism

PILATES BRINGS VARIETY & BALANCE TO YOUR WORKOUT

Pilates is also a good complement to aerobic exercise like walking, cycling and swimming. Including a weekly Pilates session can bring variety and balance to your exercise routine.

Pilates is one of the best exercises to do to improve core strength. A stronger core reduces low back pain, allows you to move better, as well as, tone and strengthen your abdomen. Pilates also stretches and lengthens the spine, which helps ease muscle and joint pain, another symptom of hypothyroidism.

Aerobic exercise because of the repetitive nature of the exercise, where you spend long hours using a selected group of muscles, could led to overuse. Walking, for example, is a good aerobic exercise. But walking tightens the shin muscles and calves, and if you have knee pain, it can increase the pain. As a result, stretching areas of the body, which are tight and prone to overuse, prevent pre-mature wear-and-tear and injury.

Hence, adding Pilates to your weekly exercise gives you a more balanced workout and body.

HYPOTHYROIDISM LIMITS YOUR EXERCISE CHOICE

When you have hypothyroidism, your choice of exercises is also limited, partly due to fatigue, and partly because some exercises could make the condition worse. In general, aerobic exercises are recommended because they burn fat for energy. They help you keep your weight down.

Anaerobic exercises, on the other hand, burn sugar for energy, which could cause a sharp drop in body’s blood sugar. This could trigger dysgylcemia, a precursor to diabetes, said Datin Kharrazian, author of the influential book on functional hypothyroidism, “Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal.” (2010.)

There is a strong correlation between poor sugar control and hypothyroidism. A high level of blood sugar affects the supply of thyroid hormones in the body, as well as, stresses the adrenal glands which support the thyroid function, said Kharrazian.

Examples of anaerobic exercises are weight-lifting, cross-fit, HITT training, golf, or any sports which require short but powerful bursts of energy.

FULL-BODY WORKOUT, WITHOUT STRESSING THE BODY

Pilates offers a good alternative to anaerobic exercise. Pilates tones and strengthens the body, without raising the alarm on sugar levels in the body.

Additionally, as you become stronger and more flexible, the Pilates programme offers exercise progression. You can expect to progress to more challenging exercises, which would further improve your strength and flexibility.

Combat fatigue with exercise
Reduce the feeling of fatigue — a symptom of hypothyroidism — with regular low-intensity exercise.

2. Beat Fatigue With Exercise

Your energy level may be low when you have hypothyroidism, but don’t let that stop you from exercising:

“Too often we believe that a quick workout will leave us worn out – especially when we are already feeling fatigued,” said Tim Puetz, co-author of  a study in 2008 to examine the relationship between exercise and fatigue. 

But the science showed exercise reduces fatigue and improves energy level, particularly if you are sedentary, said Puetz.

The study from the University of Georgia, the United States involved individuals who regularly complained of fatigue and who did not exercise. They were given 20 minutes of low intensity, aerobic exercise, three times a week for six weeks. After six weeks, their fatigue levels fell by as much as 65%, while their energy levels rose by 20%, compared to the control group who did not exercise.

What the study has shown is you don’t need much exercise to start feeling better. Cycling on a stationary bicycle was the mode of exercise used for the study because it was easy to monitor. You can pick other low intensity workout. Go for an easy walk or a swim. You’ll feel better.

THYROID GLAND, THE BODY’S ‘THERMOSTAT’

The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped endocrine gland, located in the lower front of the neck.  It is known as the “thermosat” of the body because of its role in keeping the body warm. The thyroid gland also regulates the body’s metabolism, so it is responsible for weight gain or loss. It speeds up or slows down the heart rate, controls muscle contraction and development and affects digestion.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped endocrine gland in the lower front of the neck.

How it works is, the thyroid gland receives thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) from the pituitary gland located at base of the brain. From the TSH, the thyroid gland uses iodine found in the food that we eat to produce thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4.) Fish, seaweed and dairy products are rich in iron.

Only a small portion of T3 that the body needs is produced by the thyroid gland. The rest of the supply comes from the conversion of T4 into T3, primarily in the liver (about 60%) and gut (20%.)

HIGH TSH, A POSITIVE FOR HYPOTHYROIDISM

When the pituitary gland senses there are not enough thyroid hormones in the blood, it releases more TSH to the thyroid gland. When there are more TSH, it means the thyroid gland is under active. As a result, the standard test for hypothyroidism is to determine the level of TSH in the blood. If the blood test shows a high level of TSH, it is a positive for hypothyroidism.

Hashimoto’s disease, hereditary (passed on from one generation to the next,) viral infection, iron deficiency, poor liver and gut function are causes of hypothyroidism. 

HYPERTHYROIDISM

The opposite of hypo- is hyper- thyroidism, where the body produces too much thyroid hormones, which send the body into an overdrive. Sharp weight loss, anxiety, elevated heart rate and professed sweating are symptoms of hyperthyroidism. 

Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Similar to Hashimoto’s disease, it is an autoimmune disorder. Hereditary, viral infection and stress are causes of Graves’ disease.

3. Forget About Fad Diets

Sudden weight gain is another common symptom of hypothyroidism. Sharp weight gain can cause poor self-esteem and depression, particularly when you feel you are not in control of your body.

However, forget about going on a fad diet. According to researchers from the Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, hypo-caloric diet where there is sharp reduction in your caloric intake does not work.

In the study, which examined the relation between weight loss and thyroid hormones, the American researchers said diets irregardless of the macronutrient composition — whether it is high protein, high fat or low carbohydrate diet — may succeed in the beginning, but the weight loss would taper off, and a rebound back to the previous weight is the norm than the exception. Studies on humans and animals show the body develops “compensatory mechanisms,” including increasing appetite and decreasing energy expenditure which prevent further weight loss, and ultimately promote weight regain, the researchers said.

4. Regular Exercise, Key To Sustainable Weight Loss

So how to lose weight effectively? According to the study, published in 2014, regular exercise is a key component for sustainable weight loss. 

The study found moderate weight loss, supported by regular exercise and dietary control over a period of 12 months, resulted in a “significant decrease” in thyroid hormone T3, which suggested successful weight loss. The result was accompanied by “minimal changes” to the other thyroid hormonal balance (or homeostasis) in the body, including TSH and T4. Sharp fluxes in the level of thyroid hormones are responsible for weight rebound, which causes most weight-loss programmes to fail. They also worsen the symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Hence, a combination of regular exercise and dietary control is a healthier way to lose weight. It prevents wrecking the thyroid homeostasis.

Exercise for Hashimoto's disease
Stress has been linked to Hashimoto’s disease. Regular exercise reduces stress, prevents thyroid flare-ups.

5. Exercise Reduces Stress, Better Cope With Hashimoto’s Disease 

Exercise is a known stress reliever. Stress, which caused high levels of cortisol in the body, has been associated with Hashimoto’s disease. The autoimmune disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, and affects more women than men.

In Hashimoto’s Disease, the body produces an elevated level of antibodies which block the absorption of thyroid hormones. Not much is known about why autoimmune diseases occur. It is not known why the immune system mis-fires and attacks the body’s healthy cells. But what is known is apart from stress, viral infection, gluten intolerance, Vitamin D deficiency, Type 1 diabetes and a poor diet, high in sugar and caffein can compromise the immune system. Studies have linked them to Hashimoto’s disease. 

Participating in regular exercise helps you to relax. Exercise reduces the release of stress hormone like cortisol in the body, and increases happy hormones like dopamine and endorphins. Dopamine in particular, is important for normal thyroid function. A recent study showed the dopamine-thyroid relation has the potential to treat Parkinson’s disease.

Step Closer to a Healthier Body, a Healthier Mind

Exercise offers many benefits if you have hypothyroidism. Regular physical activity helps you shake off fatigue, reduce stress, lose weight and overall better cope with the effects of hypothyroidism. If you looking to start, Pilates is a good exercise for beginners. Pilates relieves joint pain and offers a full body workout, without taxing the blood sugar level in the body.

“Exercise traditionally has been associated with physical health, but we are quickly learning that exercise has a more holistic effect on the human body and includes effects on psychological health,” said Tim Puetz from the University of Georgia.

 “What this means is that in every workout, a single step is not just a step closer to a healthier body, but also to a healthier mind,” said Puetz.

Medical Disclaimer: Always consult your physician if you have an existing pain or a pre-existing medical condition before beginning any exercise. The above information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or replace your healthcare professional.

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    My 2017 Highlight is your Pilates Classes

    "One good thing that happened to me in 2017 is attending your Pilates classes. I have chronic lower back pain since early 20s. I am in my 30s now. From a MRI scan a year ago, I found I have ‘lesser fluid’ on two of my lower back discs which might be the cause of my back pain. Sometimes, sitting was just annoying and I’d to take leave from my desk or from what I was doing to lie down. I’d been visiting TCM for quick reliefs when the pain was unbearable. I did some yoga and exercises through the years. They helped but they seemed to bring me other issues like knee discomfort, and a feeling of imbalance on my lower back. It could be I was doing these yoga poses and exercises wrongly. However, in your Pilates classes, the instructions are very detailed and clear on which part of the body I should be working on. Hence, I am able to do the pose with confidence without having to worry I might injure my back further. The lower back feels so soft after each lesson. After so many years of searching for an answer, the solution to my lower back problem is Pilates, where ‘The pelvis is the centre of the body where everything begins’ 🙂 Thank you!"
    Qianni

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