If you’ve been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, chances are you’ve been given mixed advice about exercise. Doctors often say to “take it easy”, or focus just on walking or low-impact exercises like yoga and pilates. However, if you want to put Hashimoto’s into remission, you have unique needs that these exercises just don’t fulfill.
While any movement will likely be better than none, there are benefits and downfalls to know about. This article will set the Hashimoto’s and exercise conversation straight. So, if you’ve been trying to understand what is helpful, what is not, and what might actually worsen your symptoms, here’s an evidence-based take.
Problems with most exercise advice for Hashimoto’s
Most women with Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune conditions struggle with joint pain from hypermobility and inflammation. The autoimmunity (even at normal thyroid levels) can also cause muscle pain and weakness .
Inflammation of the tendons (tendonitis) and joint surfaces (arthritis) are also common among Hashimoto’s patients , especially with repetitive overuse. The same joints are also often inflamed on both sides, reflecting systemic inflammation.
These can also worsen over time with muscle loss due to low thyroid function and aging. Muscle loss can make it harder to lose or maintain a healthy weight. Here’s how these popular types of exercise can affect your symptoms.
Is cardio (running and cycling) good for Hashimoto’s and overall thyroid function?
Many Thyroid Strong students fared much worse when they were doing these cardio exercises and got better once they started lifting weights correctly. Cardio exercise tends to make Hashimoto’s symptoms worse due to the following reasons.
Repetitive and high-impact movements
While cardio exercises help you break a sweat and get your heart rate up, they can be hard on the joints. Running in particular places a lot of repeated compression on ankle, knee, and hip joints. Although cycling and elliptical are low-impact, they are repetitive movements on the hip flexors and front of your legs. These exercises promote a flexed position that weakens the glutes and core muscles, which can contribute to back pain and knee pain. So, these cardio exercises can worsen back pain and the joints involved.
Over-stressing the body and losing muscles
Cycling and running on a regular basis at high intensity can raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol . If you enjoy them once in a while, the temporary cortisol increase isn’t a problem, especially if your Hashimoto’s is well-managed. But regularly doing long cardio exercises multiple times a week can overload your stress response . The high stress and cortisol can also accelerate muscle loss .
Reduce thyroid hormone activation
Intense cardio exercises and over-exercising of any kind can also reduce active thyroid hormones . This can potentially worsen your symptoms and make it harder to lose weight.
May not help with weight loss in the long term
I wish I knew this before spending years doing as many double Soul Cycle classes as possible every week! My baby weight never came off until I stopped doing this.
If you’re just starting out, these cardio exercises may help with some weight loss. But your body will quickly adjust to it and your weight will plateau. Yet, to keep the weight off, you’ll have to continue with these long cardio sessions, which are not great for your joints.
A meta-analysis of 14 clinical trials analyzed 1,847 obese patients for 12 months. After 6 months, the average weight loss was 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs). At 12 months, the average weight loss was 1.7 kg (3.74 lbs). There were some improvements in blood pressure and lipids, but the weight loss was abysmal .
Yoga and Pilates for Hashimoto’s
Because of its often “gentle” nature, yoga and pilates commonly get recommended to women with Hashimoto’s as a form of exercise. But there are pros and cons of these if you will do it to manage Hashimoto’s and lose weight.
Pro: The meditative and breathwork practices can support mental health and help you manage stress. Yoga also teaches you to stay present and detached from your performance, which can often be an antidote if being type A contributes to your health issues.
Con: Yoga and pilates tend to promote stretching without building much muscles and strength. This can destabilize the already hypermobile joints, increasing the risk of injury. Instead of improving your joint pain, these exercises may actually make it worse.
Now, if you love these so much that you want to continue them, you want to work with someone knowledgeable in chronic pain and Hashimoto’s.
Keep in mind, also, that yoga comes in many different forms. There are also yin yoga classes that focus more on the meditative and restorative aspects without stretching into poses. These may be safer and more beneficial as stress management. They don’t replace the exercise that you need to get fit or lose weight, though.
Typical fitness program and Crossfit for Hashimoto’s
Typically workout programs for healthy people are too much for women with Hashimoto’s because they tend to be too much and too intense.
Crossfit and similar types of circuit training can be even worse because they cause so frequent injuries. Low back and shoulder injuries are particularly common, outnumbering those of olympic weightlifting . This injury risk is not great for anyone, especially with Hashimoto’s women with joint hypermobility and exercise intolerance.
Crossfit and other workouts like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), are as the name implies, intense! So, they can increase cortisol and lower your thyroid hormone activation just as excess cardio can. Combined with low thyroid, inflammation, and increased oxidative stress, these exercises can make you couch-bound for days. Worse yet, it can even trigger flares.
In my experience, trainers who know how to deliver results for Hashimoto’s patients without making it worse are extremely rare. It took me over 10 years to figure this out. This is why I created Thyroid Strong to help fellow women with Hashimoto’s.
The right way to exercise for Hashimoto’s
When you train right, working out can [9,10]:
- give you more energy
- reduce inflammation
- alleviate muscle and joint pain
- reduce your risk of injuries
- modulate your immune system
- Improve your metabolism
- help with fat loss and overall make you look better 
That said, here are what I believe boils down to the right way to exercise with Hashimoto’s.
Resistance training aka lifting weights with perfect form
If you’ve been around here long at all, you know I’m all about resistance training. In Thyroid Strong, we prioritize building strength and lean muscles using a variety of functional movements.
Muscles make everything better by improving your metabolism and reducing inflammation. Resistance training also modulates the immune system, which can help put Hashimoto’s into remission .
But you can’t just do any workout programs as it can set you back in your healing. You need to take into consideration the following points.
Meet yourself where you’re at
Many Thyroid Strong students start out very deconditioned because nearly everything they tried made it worse or didn’t work. So, they got discouraged from sticking with it.
Hypothyroidism may also give you exercise intolerance because the heart can’t keep up, so you need to start out slow. But the key is to get moving and commit to it every day without beating yourself up for where you’re at.
These reasons are why I provide comprehensive exercise guidance along with ways to make an exercise easier or harder in Thyroid Strong. I don’t advise pushing through pain, but I teach correct ways to warm up and perform each exercise with perfect form to minimize pain. Last but not least, you’ll join a community that understands your struggles and what it takes to keep going.
Use Functional Movements
Functional movements (Pulling, pushing, squatting, lunging, hinging, rotation, and carrying) are just natural. I recommend building strength in these movements because when done correctly:
- They help you better function pain-free in day-to-day life.
- You’ll learn to move through full ranges of motion, and train your muscles, nervous system, and breathing for stability.
- They work out your muscles in a balanced manner. This reduces the odds of muscle imbalances, which can cause movement dysfunctions and pain.
- They are time-efficient, especially if you want to leave your workouts energized.
Keep a shorter duration and longer rest
First, stop looking at exercise as a way to burn calories, but instead as a stimulus for your body to get stronger and healthier. Your body adapts to the stimulus in-between your workouts while you sleep and rest. If you want to lose weight, there is no way around creating a caloric deficit through your diet.
20 minutes is the minimum effective dose here, especially if you’re just starting out or other exercise programs have sent you to the couch. Longer rest periods of 2 – 3 minutes allow your heart rate and nervous system to recover so you can do the next set in perfect form. That way, you can safely push yourself to get stronger.
When done right, you’ll be amazed at how much stronger you get at every workout and how energized you get from it.
Maintaining balance and variety
Muscular imbalances can worsen joint pain and posture. So, in Thyroid Strong, I make sure that the program is balanced. When there is push, you need to counterbalance it with pull. When you do exercises that work the front of your legs such as squats and lunges, you need to work the muscles behind your legs as well.
I recommend keeping the resistance training 3 times a week as your staple. In-between, you can enjoy walking outside or other gentle activities to maintain variety and recover.
Avoiding stretching or stretchy-type exercises and foam-rolling
When your joints and muscles hurt, you might be inclined to stretch and foam roll. In my experience, when there is tightness, it’s compensating for weaknesses in other areas of your body. If you stretch or foam-roll it, you’ll just destabilize it even more.
To address the pain and tightness, strengthen and stabilize rather than stretch and roll.
Exercise is a foundational piece to overcoming Hashimoto’s. The problem is that most exercise advice for Hashimoto’s patients tend to make their Hashimoto’s worse.
I had to learn the hard way when I was on my journey to put my Hashimoto’s into remission. So, I put what I’ve learned to produce results and improve Hashimoto’s into my Thyroid Strong program. It’s tried and true with thousands of women in the community.
Join the program today and get the step by step guidance to start your journey to more energy, less pain, and feeling strong!
Do yoga, cardio, or lifting help Hashimoto’s weight loss?
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