Every patient with Hashimoto’s that walks in my office receives a recommendation for strength training or at least steppingstones to get there. And every patient knows that their capacity for healing may be reduced if this is not incorporated. I’m serious about strength training for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, but it’s for some really good reasons.
First, a little background.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is one of the most common thyroid disorders. It is an autoimmune disorder that if left untreated typically leads to the development of hypothyroidism, a condition in which there is reduction in the output of active thyroid hormone. Common symptoms include fatigue, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, hair loss, constipation, dry skin, brittle nails, joint pain, muscle weakness, sensitivity to cold, swelling of the limbs, and reduced heart rate. As you can see, this is not the greatest recipe for feeling your best.
I often find that those with Hashimoto’s struggle to embark on an exercise regimen until they are properly treated. All patients will benefit from lifestyle changes such as proper nutrition, good sleep, and stress management, while some may need to incorporate prescription medications to feel their best. Either way – regular activity is a must and strength training provides significant benefit over cardio alone.
Let’s review a little bit about Hashimoto’s for those of you new to this topic:
- Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
- It is an autoimmune disorder whereby the immune system mounts an attack on the thyroid which results in the development of thyroid antibodies.
- It can take 7-8 years for Hashimoto’s to affect thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), the most common screening test run by conventional doctors to assess for hypothyroidism.
- Hashimoto’s affects more women than men.
- Having Hashimoto’s increases the risk of developing other autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and vitiligo.
Many women have been ingrained with the idea that cardio workouts are necessary to achieve optimal health, but unfortunately doing only cardio does not provide all the benefits required to best manage their thyroid condition. Furthermore, many women who come to me are looking to lose weight when maybe the focus should be to build strength instead (those darn societal pressures at play). Please hear me loud and clear when I say exercise is about so much more than weight management! Strength training is about longevity, confidence, mobility, and even just activities of daily living. Looking hot is great and all, but you should also want to be able to get up off the floor when you’re 65.
Here are my top 5 reasons why strength training for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is a non-negotiable:
- Strength training is known to reduce inflammation. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (-itis = inflammation) is by nature an inflammatory condition so anything we can do to reduce inflammation is helpful. Strength training increases the release of anti-inflammatory cytokines (proteins for cell signaling) while also reducing inflammatory cytokines1.
- Strength training reduces pain. Even after just 8 weeks, a study showed that the training group reported improved perception of pain, decreased number of pain areas, and diminished pain qualities over the control group2. Imagine if you trained consistently over long periods of time how much be more control you would have over your pain. Count me in!
- Strength training is critical for bone health. Thyroid disorders and even thyroid mediations (prescribed improperly) can affect bone health. Bone disorders are more commonly associated with hyperthyroidism; however, those with Hashimoto’s can vacillate between hyperthyroid and hypothyroid states, especially at the onset. Strength training is a great way to improve bone health as it stimulates osteoblasts (cells that build bone) and inhibit osteoclasts (cells that break down bone)3. Don’t forget, as women age their estrogen production declines which further increases their risk for fractures and osteoporosis. Ladies- we cannot be scared of picking up heavy stuff!
- Strength training improves energy. Any movement done regularly can improve energy though I personally find strength training to be more potent. One study found that even just 1 set of resistance training sessions (6 rep max, 9 exercises) done 3 days per week significantly increased energy4. How amazing is that? Remember, training doesn’t always have to be super hard and it doesn’t even have to happen in a gym (quarantine showed us that!).
- Strength training boosts mood. It is common for those with Hashimoto’s to experience both anxiety and depression. Like cardio, strength training triggers the release of dopamine thereby improving mood5. Strength training often improves confidence as well which can have a positive effect on. This is why I tell patients all the time to take their stress to the gym, or wherever these days.
As you can see, the benefits of strength training are many. This is why I call it a non-negotiable. If you have injuries or other health conditions that prevent you from lifting weights, I encourage you to work with a physical therapist or trainer to find alternatives that work for you. I also recommend that beginners work with a trainer if they can afford it. Having a professional show you correct form is critical if you want to prevent injuries while lifting weights. If that is out of your budget just start somewhere and work your way up.
Dr. Carolyn Stone