Is it possible to stimulate your thyroid with certain exercises?
Are some exercises better than others for your thyroid?
The short answer is yes, exercising can absolutely improve your thyroid function.
In fact, several recent studies have shown that exercising can both reduce your TSH and increase free thyroid hormone levels.
This is great news if you are trying to treat your thyroid naturally!
Let's go into more detail about how exercise can help you, which exercises are the best, how much is too much exercise, and other tips to help improve your metabolism:
Can Exercise Benefit your Thyroid?
You probably already know that exercise is a good thing for your body.
I shouldn't have to convince you of that.
We know, from many studies, that exercise can reduce your risk of all-cause mortality, improve heart function, help with weight loss, and so on and so on.
But, in addition to all of these benefits, we can also add boosting thyroid function to the list! (1)
Certain exercises, based upon your heart rate, have been shown to improve thyroid function.
And this is true whether you are taking thyroid medication or if you are just healthy.
Exercising, for both groups, can improve your thyroid.
How does it work?
We don't know all of the details yet, but exercise helps in at least 3 important ways.
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3 Benefits of Exercising for your Thyroid
#1. Increase Free Thyroid Hormone Concentration
This is probably the single most important reason to exercise if you have hypothyroidism or any other thyroid-related issue.
Studies have shown that hypothyroid patients, already taking thyroid medication, who exercise 1 hour per day experience both a reduction in their TSH and an increase in their T4 and T3 levels (2).
This is without changing their medication!
This might be confusing, but let me break it down for you.
The reduction in TSH indicates that the body is able to produce its own thyroid hormone more naturally.
So what happens is your TSH drops as more thyroid hormone is being produced.
This is reflected in an increase in T4 and T3 levels in the bloodstream as well.
So, what exactly is exercise doing for your thyroid?
It's helping your thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone on its own! In effect, it's naturally healing your thyroid function and this is a great thing.
#2. Reduce Inflammation
Even though inflammation is really a non-specific entity, reducing it is still valuable if you have thyroid disease.
This is because many people with hypothyroidism suffer from an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
Those with Hashimoto's have a disordered immune function which causes their own body to attack their thyroid gland resulting in its destruction.
Anything which helps reduce inflammation and immune function can potentially reduce this attack.
But beyond this, it's also important to manage inflammation because inflammation can potentially reduce peripheral T4 to T3 conversion.
T4 to T3 conversion is the process by which your body activates and turns regular thyroid hormone into its active form.
Inflammation can block or prevent this from occurring.
By exercising you are effectively removing roadblocks to conversion while also potentially reducing immune attack on your thyroid gland.
#3. Improve Metabolism
Lastly, exercise (the right kind) can potentially improve your metabolism.
Your metabolism is roughly defined as the number of calories it takes to keep your body functioning on a day to day basis.
And your metabolism is controlled (or at least highly regulated) by your thyroid gland.
It is estimated that thyroid hormone controls up to 60% of your metabolism and daily caloric burn (4).
And what happens if you have thyroid disease?
Hypothyroidism (a reduction in thyroid hormone) tends to reduce your metabolism which often leads to weight gain.
You can fight and prevent this weight gain by attempting to balance out your metabolism with exercise.
Only exercises which help build up muscle mass will improve your metabolism, though, so keep that in mind.
Any thyroid patients who struggles with weight gain or has a slower than normal metabolism will want to improve their metabolism.
Which Exercises are Best?
Hopefully, you're ready to start exercising after reading all of these benefits!
But you probably have some questions...
Which exercise should I start with?
How often should I be exercising?
Are some exercises better than others?
These are normal questions that almost all patients have so let's take a second and answer them.
Below you will find my recommendations on how to exercise, how frequently you should be exercising, and the benefits of certain exercises over others:
- Weekly strength training - Strength training is one of the best exercises you can do for your thyroid because it helps to build muscle mass which can improve your metabolism. Always incorporate some kind of strength training into your regimen. No more than 1-3 times per week, however.
- Weekly yoga - Yoga is a great way to both exercise, improve your flexibility, and reduce your stress. Yoga can enhance your breathing, improve your cortisol and keep you active (5).
- Daily walking - No matter what types of exercises you choose to do throughout the week you should always supplement these with daily low-intensity activity. This could include walking, doing normal chores throughout the house, swimming, going for a light jog, etc. Pretty much anything that keeps you active throughout the day should be a priority. This should be IN ADDITION to whatever higher intensity exercises you choose to do throughout the week.
- Periodic/episodic high-intensity interval training - Lastly, you'll also want to incorporate some episodes of high-intensity interval training. This includes exercises which get your heart rate up to 70% of normal (6), require a lot of energy expenditure, and which leave you breathless. You can get this kind of exercise with certain aerobic exercise like spin class, cycling, sprinting, etc. Don't overdo it, however, because excessive exercise can actually drop your thyroid function (more on that below).
Can you Exercise Too Much?
The answer is yes!
The studies I've referenced in this article clearly show that too much exercise, at a very high capacity, can actually start to reduce free T3 and total T3.
This effect seems to be more pronounced as you enter into very highly intensive exercises and as your heart rate reaches 90% of your healthy maximum.
So, will you notice this effect if you are simply jogging on a treadmill or doing weight lifting?
But you may start to experience this as you ramp up the intensity of your exercises.
Many people with thyroid disease also suffer from weight loss resistance.
This combination leads some people to slam their head into the wall by exercising as much as they possibly can.
If you are one of those people who over exercises (and under eats) in an attempt to control your weight then you may be doing more harm than good to your body.
Exercise is a stressful event on your body.
The entire goal when you exercise is to break down the muscle fibers in your body to allow your body to heal and then rebuild those muscle tissues even stronger than before.
But what if your body is already being taxed? What if you don't have enough energy to do normal daily tasks?
Too much exercise can put additional strain on an already taxed system and make you feel worse off.
You'll know if you reach this stage because, after working out, you will most likely feel more fatigued than when you started.
This may sound counterintuitive but it's actually a great marker to assess if you are over-exercising.
Exercising should be a stimulating experience and one that leaves you feeling refreshed and energized.
If you are already suffering from fatigue and exercising makes that fatigue worse then you may want to dial down how much you are exercising.
In addition to this, high-intensity exercise can also drag down your serum cortisol (7).
Cortisol is your stress hormone and your body releases it in response to stress.
Not surprisingly, exercise can cause the release of cortisol!
But if you already have a baseline increased level of cortisol then adding more to the system increases your risk of weight gain and insulin resistance.
This is how excess exercise can paradoxically make you gain weight.
What To Do If you are Over-Exercising
The first thing you should do is cut back on how much you are exercising.
I usually tell patients to do this by about 50% of whatever you are doing.
Most of the patients who I tell this to tend to freak out and believe that they are going to gain weight as a result.
They are often surprised that they actually lose more weight by cutting back on their exercise!
You can use your energy level as a gauge of how much you should be exercising (discussed above).
As you cut back on exercising, and as you listen to your body, you should notice your energy level improve.
In addition to cutting back on exercise, you may also want to add in an adrenal supplement to help support your cortisol.
Adrenal supplements which contain adrenal adaptogens are ideal for this type of situation.
Adaptogens help your body tolerate stress, help you balance cortisol levels, and naturally help improve your energy.
When I was recovering from adrenal-related issues after my residency, I used an adrenal supplement which contained both adrenal adaptogens and adrenal glandulars such as this one.
You will want to try something similar if you believe you have been overexercising.
Build More Muscle and Build your Metabolism
One of the benefits of improving your muscle mass is that it also increases your metabolism.
Only certain exercises (those such as strength training) tend to have any real impact on building your muscles.
Exercises like yoga and low-intensity exercises can be useful for helping you to maintain your existing muscle mass, but they often are not enough to trigger the building of new muscle mass.
If your goal is to enhance your metabolism then you want to make sure that you are BUILDING muscle.
You can do this with strength training exercises (at least once per week) but exercising is only part of the equation.
You also need to make sure that you are eating healthy.
This means you need to be both consuming a sufficient amount of protein while also avoiding excessive sugar.
Consuming sugar will spike insulin and drive calories into your fat cells and not into your muscle cells where they are needed for growth.
This is one of the main reasons that exercising should always be accompanied by healthy eating.
But in addition to consuming healthy foods, you can also use other supplements such as protein powder.
The bottom line?
Exercises can absolutely help improve your thyroid function by reducing your TSH and increasing both T3 and T4 levels.
If you decide to exercise (which you should!) then you want to make sure that you are not overexercising.
Overexercising can put additional strain on your body and on cortisol which can negatively impact your metabolism and weight.
Follow the guidelines listed above to find an ideal amount for your body.
Each person will need to exercise a different amount based on their goals, their baseline metabolism, and so on.
Not I want to hear from you:
Are you going to start exercising to improve your thyroid?
Are you currently exercising to try and heal your thyroid?
Is it working for you?
Why or why not?
Leave your comments or questions below!
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