I know, it’s easy to get discouraged when it seems like exercise makes you even more tired, results in days after days of recovery, or seems like it isn’t leading to any results. I’ve been there – and many of my clients have, too.
If you can relate, what’s negatively impacting you isn’t simply the exercise (it’s important to exercise with Hashimoto’s!) – it’s the way you’re doing it. Read on to learn my 9 must-have tips for exercising with Hashimoto’s so you can workout in a supportive, effective, and sustainable way.
1.) Listen to your body
Physical activity is important for people with Hashimoto’s because – when done properly – it lowers inflammation in the body, improves the immune system, and prevents further progression of the disease.
But the balance between reaching your goals and overtraining is delicate when working out with Hashimoto’s. So, listen to your body and make any changes to your workout routine slowly. For example, if you want to add time to your weightlifting routine, add one new set each session, or maybe an extra five more minutes. If you’d like to move from having two rest days in between workouts to one, incorporate the new workout slowly – then see how your body responds. Recovery from exercise is essential with Hashimoto’s.
If you have specific goals in mind – whether they be personal or for sport – it can be tough to listen to your body when you’re wanting to compete, excel, and see faster results. However, by ignoring signs of overtraining, you run the risk of setting yourself back even further than if you would have just listened and taken a break or laid off the extra workout.
Because you have Hashimoto’s, your body gives you unique signals to let you know what’s working – and what isn’t. You can still compete, exercise, and make progress while listening to these signals, and by doing so you’ll benefit from sustainable and rewarding results.
2.) Be careful of repetitive motion exercises
With Hashimoto’s, repetitive motion exercises can pose a challenge. For example, high repetition/low weight lifting exercises or repetitive movements like cycling demand high levels of cortisol – which in turn lowers thyroid hormones. Additionally, with Hashimoto’s we suffer from low muscle mass, so we can’t afford to create overuse injuries on the muscles we’ve got. Overuse aside, repetitive motion exercises don’t actually help our need to build muscle mass, which helps us burn fat, get strong, and beat fatigue of Hashimoto’s.
This isn’t to say you must retire your running shoes or ditch the bike. Just monitor your body closely if your sport of choice calls for repetitive movements, take care not to overtrain, and make sure you don’t sacrifice proper form as you get fatigued. And, supplement your workouts with strength training.
3.) Don’t overtrain
Exercising with Hashimoto’s requires a delicate balance between creating some stress in the body to make progress towards your goals and not over-stressing the body leaving you depleted and struggling to adequately recover.
Although you may feel invigorated after a workout and think, “Hey, I could totally go another hour!” – don’t. You may pay for it later as your body attempts to replenish itself of the thyroid hormones it already struggles to create.
Over-exercising is known to do more harm than good in general, but especially in those of us with Hashimoto’s. If you’re exercising a lot and experiencing constant tiredness, decreased strength and stamina, bad sleep, delayed recovery, aching in your joints and limbs, injuries and frequent illness it’s not normal. In fact, it’s your body telling you something.
It’s your body letting you know that you need recovery – and that perhaps the exercise you’re doing isn’t what’s best for your body. Now don’t get me wrong: a little soreness after incorporating a new exercise or increasing the weight in your weight lifting program is normal, but it shouldn’t take you out or be so persistent. Remember, with Hashimoto’s you must consider your body’s thyroid and how the activities you do affect it. By overtraining, you aren’t giving your body enough time to replenish the things it already struggles to create. So, do yourself a favor and work with your body – not against it – by finding a routine that gives you adequate recovery time while still pursuing your goals.
Be patient and shoot for slow and steady progress when exercising with Hashimoto’s.
4.) Don’t overstretch
Another common mistake Hashimoto’s ladies make is over-stretching. In my clinical experience, we commonly struggle with hyper-mobility and tissue laxity. Therefore, stretching excessively and doing yoga may not be the best for people with Hashimoto’s, since our bodies need joint support and more stability from strong, stable muscles – not lengthened ones. Learn more about hyper-mobility here.
5.) Be consistent
Hashimoto’s is linked to decreased insulin sensitivity. Because aerobic and strength-training exercises are shown to improve insulin sensitivity, it’s critical to exercise with Hashimoto’s regularly.
As you listen to your body and discover your perfect routine, be consistent. Try new workouts for a week or two, track your results, and see how you feel. Don’t get discouraged during your time of exploration – simply do what works for you and leave the rest behind. But, make sure to stay consistent in your pursuit to be active and healthy. Whether it looks like brisk walks and twenty minutes of weights 3 times a week, or you’re trying a revised High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) routine, make physical activity a part of your life in whatever form it takes.
I know it can be hard to muster up the inspiration and energy to head to the gym when you’re feeling tired and weak. However, your body needs to move to heal. Your muscles need strengthening and exercise lowers inflammation, which will actually lessen any aches and pains you may have. By getting the blood flowing you support your system’s natural ability to heal itself and strengthen your body and it’s immune system.
6.) Take long rest breaks
People exercising with Hashimoto’s need longer rest breaks, plain and simple. Meaning? Longer rest breaks between workout sessions and longer rest breaks during weightlifting sessions. When exercising with Hashimoto’s, tendon turnover is slower, so breaks are critical for recovery – otherwise burnout, soreness, and fatigue can occur.
Now, if you’re doing light weight exercises and hundreds of repetitions – or long, repetitive movements for exercise – you may be wondering where these long rest breaks are supposed to fit into your workout regimen.
Which brings me to my next tip…
7.) Heavy weight, low repetitions
I have seen women with Hashimoto’s thrive with a high weight, low repetition weight lifting protocol – myself included. It covers all the bases: it helps increase strength and muscle mass, improves joint support, helps get rid of excess weight, supports hormone balance, and provides opportunities between tough, high-weight sets for recovery breaks. With low repetitions – somewhere around 5 or less – you have the opportunity to lift heavier weight and push your body towards your goals. Paired with long rest breaks, a high weight/low rep weight lifting plan (about 3 times a week) allows you to prevent burnout, overuse, and injury due to fatigue.
During rest breaks, catch your breath, shake it out, and know you’re allowing your body the time it needs to catch up its tendon turnover and recover before your next set.
I’ve found this to be the best way to exercise with Hashimoto’s disease.
8.) Be careful who you listen to
It’s easy to find all kinds of workouts and training advice online and in health clubs. And, as you’ll quickly find out, everyone has a different “perfect” routine. The thing is, most of the advice you’ll find out there isn’t specific to people with Hashimoto’s and can actually be dangerous if followed by someone whose body has unique needs and considerations.
So, be careful who you listen to. Runners may advise specific mileage schedules, weightlifters might swear by two-a-days, and trainers might encourage you to “push through” limitations – which could very well be your body communicating more than just a healthy level of discomfort.
If you’re working with a trainer or coach, make sure they’re knowledgeable about Hashimoto’s and know what modifications you require of your exercise routine. Ask if they know the dangers of strenuous exercise with Hashimoto’s and see if they can give you some specific pointers on the best exercises for Hashimoto’s disease.
And, again, don’t give up! I know the struggle to find a workout routine that works with Hashimoto’s can seem impossible when you’re waking up exhausted, struggling to lose weight, feeling sore, suffering a Hashi flare-up or all of the above. But it isn’t.
You can feel good, be strong, and build a body you’re proud of. You can live pain-free, lessen your symptoms, and hack your Hashimoto’s so you can show up for yourself, your family, and your kids.
So, follow these 8 tips to get a jump-start on your health and fitness goals.
You got this.
If you’re interested in learning more about exercising with Hashimoto’s, download my free How to Beat Fatigue and Exercise with Hashimoto’s guide.
In Good Health,
Dr Emily Kiberd