Thyroid Disease and Exercise Intolerance

I am a girl who cannot stop moving. A busy bee and queen of “pushing through.” Things get done. No matter what. And honestly, I love to move. It has always been easy for me to find time to exercise. Much easier than not doing it. It is a stress release, self-care, and “me time.” That said, my definition of working out has drastically shifted over the past few years. It used to be hardcore cardio. I loved to run, spin, dance, lift weights, and enrolled in a variety of gym classes. I felt good during the activity, but within 1-2 hours the “yuck” crept in. The feeling like someone is strangling my throat, which leads to irritability, muscle weakness, fatigue, hunger, and finally a crash. The next flare would consist of cloudiness, brain fog, and fatigue for days. I would tread through life, relying on caffeine and constant snacking to keep afloat while feeling hollow, weak, and sick. And to top it off, I learned that this cycle was fueling my inflammation, which can lead to weight gain. What? 

We have all heard the rap. If you are hypothyroid and want to maintain your weight, then you have to work out. I’ve maniacally researched all the scenarios, especially in autoimmunity. Everyone has an opinion. I’ve read that cardio is vital: burn it, spin it, dance it off. No, you should lift weights, the heavier the better-light weights aggravate autoimmune issues. Others recommend yoga, barre, and pilates as better/moderate options. I tried them all and have flared from them all at different times. Yes, including yoga. I hired a personal trainer to tailor my needs, and despite our best efforts, it aggravated my exercise intolerance. When the body is already in a state of inflammation, most exercise adds fuel to the fire. I kept trying new things, kept moving, and continued to flare. So frustrating! I needed to stop. I needed to calm my inflammation and allow my body to rest and heal.  

Time out.

Those of us dealing with autoimmunity know how strenuous even simple exercise can be. Exercise intolerance is frustrating since working out is deemed healthy, and most doctors will not tell you to avoid it, even during flares. They don’t understand it. I struggled for YEARS to find what works for my body. And as much as this gal likes structure, it just doesn’t work for my body. Planning my workouts is something I’ve let go of. And it has been one of the trickiest components of my healing journey. What works for my body this week might not be the best choice the following week. I have come to understand this as a conversation my body is craving. It is another piece of my puzzle. Listening, pausing, and NOT pushing through. 

Part of healing is coming to our truth. And at times, it can feel like a slap in the face. What our mind tells us and what our body wants can be the polar opposite. Bridge the gap. Acknowledge your truth and slow down long enough to LISTEN. Yes, listen to your body. Does it want movement, rest, food, or hydration? What does this look like for you as a bio-individual? What puts your body into a state of balance so it can function at its’ optimal level? One of the hardest lessons I ever learned is that “powering through” is rarely optimal for me. When I push myself, I pay for it. My body is brilliant, and it tells me what it needs. Do I always listen? No. But I have come a million miles from trudging through workout tapes, classes, and workouts that taxed my body more than it could handle. These days my body likes to walk, stretch, and perform light strength training. It craves sunshine, fresh air, and walks with Oscar. If I’ve had a busy day of teaching, standing on my feet, and burning energy throughout the day, then even a walk can be too much.

Rest is a crucial component of my well-being. That doesn’t mean vegging with a bag of chips or couching it all night. Instead, I balance my energy and prioritize the necessities without feeling sick or taxed due to overextending what I have available. If I am tired, I eat dinner (super helpful hubby), spend time with my family, and head to bed early so I can wake with a newfound sense of energy. This process works for me. Autoimmunity is a bio-individual experience, and some people can handle more, others less. Much of this is determined by where you are in your healing process. 

It’s a journey…

*Check out Andrea Wool at Autoimmune Strong to learn more about exercising with autoimmune disease. She lives the journey and is an excellent resource for thyroid and autoimmune patients looking to move and heal.

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