Did you Know That Exercise Improves your Thyroid?
I probably don’t have to do much to convince you that exercise is important (1), right?
But I have a question for you…
Even though you know exercise is important for your overall health, are you currently exercising regularly?
If not, why not?
You may KNOW that exercise is good and healthy but are you converted to the belief that it will help YOU?
If you are like most people, then you may not actually make a change to your routine unless you completely understand why the thing you are trying to change is beneficial.
And that’s exactly what we are going to talk about today.
I’m going to give you 3 huge reasons that you should be exercising if you have any sort of thyroid issue.
Once you understand these benefits you will be much more inclined to make changes to your schedule to make room for regular and consistent exercise!
Let’s jump in:
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The 3 Primary Benefits of Exercise on your Thyroid
While it is true that exercise has a profound effect on MANY systems in your body, we are going to focus primarily on your thyroid gland.
The use of exercise (based on the intensity of the exercise and not just the types of exercise you are doing) has some very unique benefits which are specific to your thyroid gland.
And this is important because it allows you another avenue to naturally treat your thyroid.
If you can improve your thyroid naturally, with the use of exercise, then you may be able to reduce the amount of thyroid medication that you are taking or prevent your body from needing it in the future.
What’s even better is that exercise can be added to just about any regimen and it’s something that EVERYONE can do regardless of their current fitness level (more on that below).
#1. Exercise Increases Free Thyroid Hormones and Impacts your TSH
The first and perhaps biggest benefit of regular exercise is its impact on your free thyroid hormones as well as your TSH.
Regular exercise has been shown to naturally increase free T3 and free T4 levels (2).
If you’ve spent any time on my blog then you know that this is a big deal.
There are very few proven therapies or treatments (aside from thyroid medication) that have a dramatic effect on your free thyroid hormone levels.
And these free hormone levels are responsible for turning thyroid function on in your body and in your cells.
The most important free thyroid hormone is free T3, which is roughly 300x more powerful and potent than free T4.
But if you can get a boost in both then you should definitely take it.
Because free T4 acts as a reservoir that your body can draw upon to create free T3 on demand via thyroid conversion.
You’d never want to increase free T4 at the expense of free T3, but with exercise, you can get a boost to both free T3 and free T4.
In addition to its effects on your free thyroid hormones, exercise also has an impact on your TSH level (3).
Exercise can cause a drop or reduction in your TSH level.
A drop in my TSH you say? Isn’t that a problem?
Not at all!
In fact, that’s exactly what you want to occur if you have low thyroid function.
Remember your thyroid function and TSH level operate in opposite land.
A high TSH means that you have a low thyroid.
And a low TSH means that you have a high thyroid.
So if you can lower your TSH level it means your thyroid function is IMPROVING or INCREASING.
Which is exactly what you want.
So remember this:
If you are looking for a natural way to improve thyroid function, regardless of whether you take thyroid medication or not, look no further than regular exercise!
#2. Exercise Reduces Systemic Inflammation and Thyroid Gland Inflammation
The benefits of exercise don’t stop at improving free thyroid hormones either.
Systemic inflammation is the inflammation that I’m sure you are already aware of.
This is the type of inflammation that is seen in the entire body and causes damage to your cells, and various hormones and increases your risk of heart disease, as well as many other conditions and diseases.
I don’t need to tell you that you don’t want this type of inflammation in your body.
The other type of inflammation mentioned above is a little more sinister.
And that is thyroid gland inflammation.
Thyroid gland inflammation refers to inflammation isolated in the thyroid gland which results in damage and immune destruction to your thyroid.
Under normal healthy circumstances, your immune system really shouldn’t even come in contact with your thyroid gland as it remains relatively isolated and compartmentalized in your neck.
But under certain conditions, such as those seen in the autoimmune thyroid disease known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, your own immune system may irreversibly damage your thyroid gland.
Exercise can reduce THIS type of thyroid gland inflammation which may act to prevent thyroid gland destruction in the long run.
Again, there are very few therapies that you can use to stop thyroid gland inflammation so it pays to know that exercise can help in this way.
Just exercising once or twice won’t cut it, though.
You need to plan for regular exercise with frequent intervals in order to get this benefit.
But that’s what you should be going for anyway, a new lifestyle.
#3. Exercise Improves your Metabolism Which Helps with Weight Loss & Thyroid Function
And last, but certainly not least is the impact that exercise has on your metabolism.
Thyroid function is responsible for roughly 50-70% of what is known as your basal metabolic rate.
Your basal metabolic rate refers to the calories that you burn in your day-to-day activities such as breathing, eating, thinking, and so on.
Your thyroid is responsible for the majority of the calories burned during this state.
If your thyroid is low or damaged (from an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) then you will see a DECLINE in your metabolism through this mechanism.
This leads to one of the biggest and most concerning side effects of hypothyroidism, weight gain.
If you noticed that you gained weight and you have a thyroid problem then your weight gain was most likely mediated through this exact pathway.
But what can you do about it?
Well, one of the best ways to combat weight gain from hypothyroidism is with regular exercise.
Regular exercise can help improve your metabolism by improving your thyroid function (see #1 and #2 above) as well as improving your muscle mass.
The more muscle mass in your body the more calories you will burn and the higher your metabolism will be.
So if you struggle with weight gain then this should be first on your list of treatments to try.
A word of caution about weight gain, though:
One of the WORST ways to try and fight this weight gain is by changing your diet or reducing your calories for an extended period of time.
Never, and I repeat NEVER, try to lose weight with calorie-restricted diets if you have a thyroid problem.
Too Much Exercise is Also Bad
Before you run out and start exercising like crazy, you must be aware of an important fact:
Exercising too much, also known as overexercising, can be damaging to your thyroid gland.
And this is something that many thyroid patients are susceptible to.
Under normal conditions, someone can run out and start exercising and get into a routine and rhythm fairly quickly.
But this isn’t the case for many people with thyroid conditions.
Because of the impact that thyroid function has on cortisol and adrenal function, over-exercising is a problem that many thyroid patients may encounter.
To prevent overexercising all you need to do is listen to your body.
While exercising will be taxing on the body it shouldn’t put you in a state of extreme fatigue.
If you feel that you are overall LESS energized after working out or exercising then the intensity of your workout should be adjusted.
There will be many women reading this with thyroid issues who will be capable of jumping into high-intensity exercise routines such as spin classes or HIIT routines.
But on the flip side, there will also be many other women who will barely be able to tolerate something as gentle as yoga or Pilates.
The best thing you can do is listen to your body with the goal to provide a stimulus and minor strain on your body without overdoing it.
The Bottom Line?
As a thyroid patient, you should figure out a way to add regular and consistent exercise to your routine.
It shouldn’t come at the expense of your sleep (which is also invaluable) or your diet, but instead complement each of these therapies.
If you can consistently and reliably exercise then you will go a long way to naturally improving thyroid function in your body.
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you exercising regularly right now?
Have you seen any improvements in your thyroid by doing so?
If you aren’t exercising, will this article help you to reconsider?
Leave your comments or questions about exercise and how it impacts thyroid function below!