Betty couldn’t understand her weight gain over the last year. She put on 10 kg to 70 kg in a course of a year. She watched her diet, yet she often felt bloated. She was tired all the time. At work, Betty shivered in the air-conditioned office and wore a thick sweater. She has shoulder and wrist pain but the doctors couldn’t diagnose the cause of the pain. She was depressed and did not know what was wrong with her. 

WEIGHT GAIN, LOW ENERGY, COMMON SYMPTOMS

Betty was eventually diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone. She is feeling better with medication, but would still experience bouts of tiredness and she struggles with her weight. Can exercise help Betty manage the symptoms?

Exercise may not be on Betty’s “to-do” list. After all, low energy is a common symptom of hypothyroidism. But exercise increases the body’s metabolism. Regular exercise keep the weight in control, as well as the other symptoms of hypothyroidism which are metabolic related in control.

EXERCISES GOOD FOR HYPOTHYROIDISM

Choosing the right exercise could make or break your workout. So what are the exercises good for hypothyroidism?

Aerobic exercise like cycling helps the body convert fat to energy. A plus for hypothyroidism where weight gain is a common symptom.

1. AEROBIC EXERCISE

Choose aerobic exercise like cycling, dancing, brisk walking, jogging, long distance running or swimming. Aerobic exercise is any physical activity which is continuous and uses the body’s big muscle groups.

Aerobic exercise is preferred because it burns fat for energy, compared to anaerobic exercise which burns sugar for energy, said Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a leading voice in hypothyroidism treatment. 

Aerobic exercise taps into the body’s fat for energy, which is better than anaerobic exercise since hypothyroidism causes weight gain. Aerobic exercise dips into the fat reserve for energy. When perform regularly it can help you lose weight.

On the other hand, anaerobic exercise burns sugar for energy. The most ready source of energy in the body is glucose or glycogen. Using the most ready source is necessary when lifting a heavy weight, sprinting, taking a serve in a tennis game or swinging a golf club. Anaerobic glycolysis offers a short, but powerful burst of energy. But anaerobic exercise could cause a drop in blood sugar, which could make dysglycemia, — a precursor of diabetes and heart diseases — worse, wrote Dr Kharrazian in his best-selling book, “Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal.”

A Strong Link to Hypoglycaemia

There is a strong correlation between hypoglycaemia — a condition of low blood sugar — and hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland which controls the body’s metabolism sensitive to the changes in the body’s chemical levels, including blood sugar and adrenals. Hypogylcemia does not usually exist on its own but is often a result of medication for diabetes which could result in unusually low blood sugar levels. Poor sugar control is one of the causes of hypothyroidism.

If you are just starting out, aim to cycle, walk or swim for a duration of 20 minutes at a level of light-to-moderate intensity. Build up your stamina over time, and improves the duration to over 30 minutes. Research shows the body increasingly substitutes glycogen with fat for energy in physical activity that is longer than 30 minutes. 

Joint pain is another symptom of hypothyroidism. Pilates improves flexibility and core strength. Pilates offers a different form of workout to aerobic exercise.

2. PILATES

Join a Pilates class. When you walk, run, cycle or swim more, there is a higher risk of injury and joint pain. Taking care of your joint is even more important as joint pain is a known symptom of hypothyroidism.

Improves Flexibility, Helps Joint Pain

Pilates exercise stretches the body and improves flexibility. “Knots” or “trigger points” often appear on muscles due to overuse, which decreases the range of motion at a joint. For example, leg muscles may become tight and stiff from too much walking or running. The risk of joint pain and injury increase when there is a decrease in range of motion at either the hip, knee or ankle joint. Regular Pilates improves flexibility which relieves joint pain and prevents injury.

Different from Aerobic Exercise

Additionally, the benefits of Pilates to your exercise program is it works a different set of muscle groups from aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise like walking, running, cycling or swimming targets large muscles of the body like the arm and leg muscles. On the other hand, Pilates trains small, but stabilising muscles of the abdominals and trunk. Known as “core muscles,” strengthening the core muscles are important for lumbar stability which prevents low back pain.

Being more aware of your body’s centre also improves your body alignment and posture. “Core alignment” is crucial in relieving muscle aches and pain like hip and knee pain, which are often caused by mis-alignments in the body.

Including Pilates to your workout offers a more well-rounded exercise program, so that you not only work the large muscles of the body, but also the core muscles.

WHAT CAUSES HYPOTHYROIDISM?

Weight gain, fatigue, low energy, constipation and an intolerance to cold are some common symptoms of hypothyroidism, a condition where the body is not producing enough thyroid hormone for normal function.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped endocrine gland, normally located in the lower front of the neck.

Thyroid hormone controls the rate at which calories are burned, which affects weight loss or gain. It also keeps the body warm, slows down or speeds up the heart rate and affects digestion.

An under-active thyroid gland could cause joint pain like muscle aches and stiffness, usually in the shoulders, hips and hands. This is because the thyroid hormone is also responsible for muscle contraction and development.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped endocrine gland in the lower front of the neck.

How it works is the pituitary gland — located at the base of the brain — sends thyroid stimulating hormones to the thyroid gland. From the TSH, the thyroid gland uses iodine found in the food we eat to produce thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4.)

High TSH, A Positive For Hypothyroidism

When the pituitary gland senses there is not enough thyroid hormone in the blood, it releases more TSH to the thyroid gland. When there is more TSH, it means the thyroid gland is under active. So the standard test for hypothyroidism is to determine the level of TSH in the blood. If the blood test shows a high level of TSH, it is a positive result for hypothyroidism.

Iron deficiency and anemia, where there is a low level of red blood cell count, affect the function of the thyroid gland.

The opposite of “hypo-” is “hyper-“thyroidism, a condition where the body is producing too much thyroid hormones. Too much thyroid hormone sends the body into an overdrive. Anxiety, fast heartbeat, sharp weight loss and profused sweating are common symptoms of an over-active thyroid gland. 

Healthy Thyroid Also Depends On Other Organs

The thyroid gland produces T3 and T4. The bulk of the supply is T4, which has to be converted to T3 in the liver, stomach and other organs in the body. T4 travels via the bloodstream to these other organs. As much as 20% of the T3 which the body needs is produced in the stomach. So a healthy stomach or gut is vital for thyroid health, said Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a leading voice in hypothyroidism treatment. He is also a clinician scientist.

As the production of thyroid depends on the stomach, liver and other organs, failure of these body parts and function could result in hypothyroidism. Autoimmune diseases, stomach ailments, poor liver function, stresses to the adrenal gland and poor sugar control are also causes of hypothyroidism.

Hashimoto’s Disease, Most Common Cause of Hypothyroidism

Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It is not known why the condition affects more women than men.

Named after the Japanese physician Hakaru Hashimoto who first described the disease in 1912, the autoimmune disorder is caused by a viral infection. Bacteria enters the body, either via an open wound or a porous gut, lungs or brain. Hepatitis C, Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus and a mould infection are examples of viral infection that compromise the body’s autoimmune system. The bacteria stresses and confuses the body to produce higher-than-normal levels of antibodies, particularly TH-1 cytokines. An elevated level of TH-1 blocks the body’s thyroid receptor sites from the absorbing the thyroid hormone that the body needs to function normally.

With Hashimoto’s Disease, the problem is not that the body isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone, but it is resistant to the thyroid hormone. In his best-selling book, “Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal,” Kharrazian wrote:

“Majority of people with hypothyroidism do not need thyroid hormone medicine. In fact medication can make functional hypothyroidism irreversible.”

Gluten Intolerance, Vitamin D Deficiency

Gluten intolerance and Vitamin D deficiency are closely linked to Hashimoto’s Disease. Removing gluten from the diet, and increasing Vitamin D intake have proven more beneficial than using drugs to adjust the TSH level in the blood, wrote Kharrazian.

In general, diet improvement and a lifestyle change are necessary in the treatment of hypothyroidism.

DON’T NEED MUCH TO SEE RESULT  

You want to exercise, but can’t find the time. Make a start because don’t underestimate the benefits of small beginnings.

A study in 2008 found that individuals, who are sedentary and who regularly complained of fatigue, performing just 20 minutes of low-intensity exercise for three times a week reduced their fatigue by 65 percent. Their energy level also increased by 20 percent from the exercise.

Riding a stationary bicycle was the exercise used in the study because it was easy to monitor, said the researchers from the University of Georgia in the US. Other than cycling on a stationary bicycle, you could choose any aerobic exercise which you enjoy doing.

“Exercise traditionally has been associated with physical health, but we are quickly learning that exercise has a more holistic effect on the human body and includes effects on psychological health,” said Dr. Tim Puetz, co-author of the study.

A small dose of exercise could reduce fatigue exponentially. “What this means is that in every workout a single step is not just a step closer to a healthier body, but also to a healthier mind,” said Puetz.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU EXERCISE?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a weekly program of moderate intensity aerobic exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes on five days a week, or at a vigorous intensity for a minimum of 20 minutes on three days a week.

If you have hypothyroidism, put on your exercise clothes and shoes and get going. Exercise is a natural energy booster. It promotes weight loss and can chase the blues way. In particular, aerobics exercise and Pilates help you lose weight, reduce joint pain and better manage the symptoms of hypothyroidism.

REFERENCE

Kharrazian, Datis. (2010). Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal. Carlsbad, USA/CA: Elephant Press LP.

Riebe, D; Ehrman, JK; Liguori, G; Magal, M. (2016). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 10th edition. Pennsylvania, USA/PA: Wolters Kulwer, pp. 4.

Medical Disclaimer: Always consult your physician if you have an existing pain or a pre-existing medical condition before beginning any exercise. The above information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or replace your healthcare professional.

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