The fatigue with Hashimoto’s can feel crippling, debilitating, and life-altering. Trust me, I know. I’ve lived it, which doesn’t really feel like “living” at all. Us women with drive and families dream of an abundance of energy, vibrancy, and radiance. We hope to be someone who attracts and puts out good energy. We imagine playing alongside our kids, having an invigorating relationship with our partner, and realizing our personal and professional dreams left and right. Unfortunately, I was far, far from this dream. Instead of getting out there, I regularly slept 12 hours a night just to feel like I could get by, and when I was awake I was always tired. Needless to say, I did not feel like my best self.
Was this it?
What Hashimoto’s Fatigue Looks Like
“Getting by” looked like dragging myself out of bed after hitting snooze five times, mumbling weakly to myself “win the morning, win the day” to psych myself up, and chugging coffee like water only to hit a wall around 2 pm. On Monday night after work, I was beat. I looked like what a crazy full week of work would do to someone on a Friday evening: I’d pass on the couch, exhausted, while my mother cared for my new baby and my husband paced the living room, confused. What happened to his driven, type-A spunky wife? Is she still in there somewhere? It seemed like I slept well at night – certainly plenty of hours – but I was wired and tired; my mind frequently raced as it went down the list of all the to-dos I lacked the energy for. I barely did what I needed to do to get by, and I was unhappy, unmotivated, and frustrated. Why couldn’t I just snap out of it?
I saw multiple doctors who told me, “Well, you are a new mom. Sleep deprivation is normal,” and “New York will run you down, especially when you’re raising a family.” I thought perhaps I just needed more sleep than the average person. Perhaps motherhood was just more strenuous on my body since I was running a clinic and seeing patients in addition to trying to be present with my new baby. Maybe it would all balance out in the end…
For many, Hashimoto’s fatigue is characterized by extreme tiredness and sluggishness, despite sleeping long hours or even taking a midday nap. You may fall asleep easily and quickly – even during the day – and find it incredibly difficult to get up. This fatigue inevitably impacts your day-to-day life. You may find it difficult to concentrate at work, keep up and stay present with the kids, and muster up the energy to exercise. Sadly, Hashimoto’s fatigue often leaves women feeling like a shell of themselves; unable to fully express themselves and just be because they simply lack the energy to really live. For some, knowing what you could be, do, or feel – because you’ve been there in the past – leads to frustration and, in some cases, depression.
When I finally discovered my Hashimoto’s, the clouds parted. I now had an explanation for my symptoms and I could begin the journey towards renewed health. By understanding Hashimoto’s, the way it impacts the body, and why it causes such fatigue, I could overcome it once and for all.
Why Hashimoto’s Causes Fatigue
So what, exactly, is happening in the body to cause such debilitating exhaustion? Let me explain. See, the extreme tiredness you feel comes from the decrease in thyroid hormone production characterizing your Hashimoto’s. For some, it happens suddenly, while for others it’s a gradual symptom and can make it hard to initially diagnose. Your thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, are responsible for regulating your heart rate, metabolism, body temperature, and more – and every cell in your body depends on them. When T3 production is decreased, your body essentially slows down to preserve what it has and replenish what it doesn’t. It tries to compensate by overproducing TSH (Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone) to stimulate your thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone. There’s a lot going on inside of you, so there’s no wonder one kink in such an important part of your system severely impacts the whole operation. People without Hashimoto’s don’t have to consider the rise and fall of their thyroid hormones – and what impacts the changes – but we do. Our health and happiness depend on us making the right choices to align with our bodies.
There are certain things you can do to support your body in its production of thyroid hormones. Alternatively, there are things you can do to work directly against your body’s natural production of hormones. This can throw everything off, and, as a result, cause a Hashi flare-up. Then, you’re out of commission for days – and grumpy. By understanding what your body does, you can strategically work with it to engage in supportive activities rather than fight against it. You can, in essence, reverse your Hashimoto’s and overcome Hashimoto’s fatigue by taking a smarter, educated approach to your health, which is what I did and what I’ve empowered thousands of women to do.
How a Functional Medicine Doctor Treats Hashimoto’s
There are many recommendations from functional medicine experts to beat fatigue. They range from how your blood work should look, how you should eat, and what supplements to take to beat Hashimoto’s fatigue. Some of my favorite resources can be found here:
Izabella Wentz is the Thyroid Pharmacist and loves to dive into the research. She’s great at explaining scientific findings in an easily understandable way.
Dr. Alan Christianson is a naturopathic thyroid expert and New York Times bestseller. He loves to read and analyze all the research and presents it in an easy-to-digest way. He can help anyone across the country through his telemedicine model.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon is my own functional medicine doctor and best friend. She helped reverse my Hashimoto’s and saved my life.
Dr. Carrie Jones is the Medical Director for the Dutch Test and a great resource for everything hormones and thyroid-related.
Dr. Jolene Brighten is a great resource for ladies who have ever been on birth control and want to know how birth control can affect the thyroid.
What No One is Talking About with Hashimoto’s
What I found on my journey with Hashimoto’s is no one is talking about how to exercise to overcome the Hashimoto’s fatigue! When treating Hashimoto’s and attempting to beat the extreme exhaustion it causes, so many people get it wrong because they don’t consider exercise as a key component of their healing journey. Then, they’re out sore for days, “unexplainably” put on weight, or come up against long-term issues. When this happens, it’s easy to get discouraged and frustrated. After all, everyone’s doing that new diet or work out program and loving it, so what gives?
Exercise plays a huge role in our metabolism and, when done properly and strategically for those of us with Hashimoto’s, can dramatically improve our muscle mass, impact our thyroid receptors, and balance our hormones. However, engage in muscle mass-burning exercises and disrupt your metabolism and you’ll likely be in a world of hurt – if not now then later.
Surprisingly, the most common exercise recommendations I hear for Hashimoto’s are:
- Walk 20 minutes a day
- Do some cardio-elliptical or stair master
- Stretch or foam roll
- Do Yoga or Pilates
- Low impact exercise- (what does this really mean?!?!)
What I’ve found is these recommendations are all wrong. And why don’t these recommendations work in the long run? As a chiropractor and movement expert who’s worked with thousands of women with Hashimoto’s in chronic pain, there is a consistent clinical finding surfacing time and time again. This finding is hypermobility, which means their joints feel loose, unstable, and double-jointed. I find cardio and yoga recommendations will not help with hypermobility but actually accentuate it. When we have “loose” joints, yogis with Hashimoto’s will get temporary relief with stretching but feel destroyed and sore for days after. Unfortunately, this feeds the thought, “More yoga!” every time tightness and muscle soreness comes back. It’s a vicious cycle.
The thing is, with Hashimoto’s, your body works differently. As a result, things like long cardio sessions, yoga, and low-impact exercises respond differently with your body. Because you have lowered thyroid function and produce less of those valuable hormones, exercises like long cardio sessions rapidly deplete them. No-go. You may feel great immediately after, but if you feel a brick wall a few hours later or into the next couple days, it’s because your body is struggling to replenish itself of what your long cardio sessions quickly drained – those valuable thyroid hormones. When this happens, your thyroid is unable to properly control your body’s most necessary functions.
Enter the cycle of starting exercise programs, abandoning exercise programs, gaining weight, feeling exhausted, quitting, getting frustrated, repeat. Sound familiar?
Don’t get me wrong: a little soreness is natural for anyone looking to push themselves into new territories of fitness. But there’s a clear line between giving yourself a healthy push and actually doing more harm than good in the long-run.
Should I Do Cardio If I Have Hashimoto’s?
In my experience, if I take women off of cardio, yoga, and stretching and put them on a solid strength training program with full-body functional movements (no pink 3 lb weights here, ladies) they feel so much better and stronger. Their energy returns. At first, sometimes I feel like I’m stealing their only passion and killing their soul. But once they feel the results, they’re completely blown away. Not only is their fatigue long gone, but they love the look and feel of their strong, healthy body! The thing is, cardio and stretching do not feed and train the largest organ in the body – the muscle. In fact, long cardio sessions can actually burn into your muscle – something you can’t afford with Hashimoto’s when your muscle mass is already compromised.
Those of us with Hashimoto’s need good muscle mass and quality muscle tissue specifically because:
- Muscle is our metabolic engine which slows down with Hashimoto’s and can get revved back up again with proper exercise.
- Muscle helps stabilize our joints which can swell and become painful due to our slower metabolism.
- There are thyroid receptors in muscle tissue. These satellite cells play an important role in muscle repair and myogenesis (the formation of muscular tissue).
- Muscle is the key factor in our quality of life as we age so we can care for ourselves (and our grandkids) longer and live a full and fulfilling life.
- Muscles help us not waste away as we age and keep us protected from broken bones, falls, and atrophy.
- When we have Hashimoto’s we are predisposed to having less muscle mass already, so there’s no need to further reduce it with muscle-burning exercise.
- When we have Hashimoto’s we have a tendency to have muscle tissue that is of lesser quality, making it more important to build and maintain it as best possible.
- When we have Hashimoto’s we have a slower recovery time so every exercise counts.
The most common thing I head goes something like this: “Well heck, how do I start to workout especially if I’m not supposed to just do cardio or yoga? I never learned how to pick up a weight. Every time I work out, I can’t get out of bed for 3 days and feel like I was hit by a bus. I don’t want that. How do I work out to beat my crippling fatigue?”
Here we go!
The Top 5 Ways to Overcome Hashimoto’s Fatigue Through Exercise
- Strength train, baby! What is strength training, you ask? In essence, pick up something heavy – with amazing form – put it down, then do it again.
- Use your breath. Always, always, always start with a good 360-degree breath into the belly. This will activate the core, give you deep core strength, and stabilize the spine. Goodbye muscle aches and joint pain! Nothing like a good belly breath to recharge the internal batteries.
- Brace your core. Ladies, this DOES NOT mean to suck it in. I know we’ve done this since we were teens and it’s a hard habit to break. We all want to skinny up our waistline and we do this by sucking in – which is a detriment to our core strength. To brace your core, pick up a weight with a 360-degree breath and flex your core outward as if you were going to take a punch. I call it our “tank of strength”! Try it!
- Take longer breaks than you think. Most trainers or group classes don’t give us ladies with Hashimoto’s long enough breaks. They’re usually on a time-crunch, limited to an hour or so, and wanting to fit a variety of exercises into their allotted time. With Hashimoto’s, you will want to pass out after about 5 minutes if you don’t give yourself sufficient recuperation time. When you work out, take a 1-2 minute break between sets. This will prevent burn out and a dreaded Hashi flare-up.
- Get stacked. This means not to hang out on your joints and overstretch them in long poses. Clinically, I find women with Hashimoto’s often have hypermobility in their joints, especially their knees, elbows, and lower back. We already know we don’t have the same kind of muscle mass to stabilize the joints, and when we hang on them, joint pain and muscle aches quickly become apparent. We all know joint pain is a massive energy drain. Try active, dynamic stretches instead of static ones and feel the difference.
Conventional exercise recommendations of cardio and stretching will not get you across the finish line to your dream – if your dream is to have an abundance of energy. I know first hand how fatigue can impact everyday life and leave you sitting on the sidelines of your own story. Overcoming Hashimoto’s fatigue is an essential step in regaining your energy and its the difference between getting by and truly showing up for your life, for yourself, and for your family.
You have the power within you to take back your health – you just need the right tools.
If you are looking for more tips, I have a free guide – How to beat fatigue and exercise to heal your Hashimoto’s – which shows you my top 6 moves to start working out and the essential steps needed even before you workout.
I know this information will help you get your energy back soon. In fact, I used this exact formula to heal my own Hashimoto’s. Every woman I’ve worked with over the last 12 years in practice has massively benefited from making the shift towards working with their body instead of fighting against it. I know it’s hard and I know you’re tired. But you can rest assured you’ve found your answer, your solution. You can overcome your Hashimoto’s fatigue and get back out there, and you will. You got this, and I’ve got you.
In Good Health,
Dr Emily Kiberd