What Role Does Exercise Play in Thyroid Health?

If you have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s you know that even doing housework can deplete your body of what little energy you have each day. You may even want to exercise but find it tough to get up and go. It is important that you don’t talk yourself in to feeling badly about your self and your ability to handle little exercise. It may be working against you anyway.  

Let us first have an overview of how thyroid hormones work. 

T3 affects most of the physiological processes in your body like your metabolism, your body temperature and your heart rate. T3 production is stimulated by by Thyroid Stimulating Hormone or TSH. Your pituitary gland (in your brain) signals the release of TSH which in turn signals the release of TSH which in turn signals the production of T4. Physiological processes in the body are supposed to convert T4 into T3 so it can get into your cells. The T4 that isn’t converted to T3 gets converted to Reverse T3. 

Your body is very receptive and adapts to certain things. Your body knows how to survive and makes sure that you remain alive each second of your life. It does this by trying to keep things in balance. It is called homeostasis. 

If you are over exercising and/or draining your supply of energy regularly then your body will adjust its functioning accordingly. Our bodies are designed to survive second by second and that is it.

A study was done in Turkey where they studied the effect of exercise on TSH levels. The study was done on male athletes and they had them doing varying intensity levels of aerobic exercise. The researchers found that aerobic exercise at 70% of your maximum heart rate showed an improvement in your body producing T3 and a slight decrease in TSH.  So a little aerobic exercise may actually do your body some good. 


Another study was done to show the effects of high intensity interval training (HIIT) where you work your body intensely for a short period and then do moderate exercise for a short period (usually in 30 second to one minute increments). It found that this type of training was more depleting of your thyroid hormones and your energy. This is important for those of us with thyroid issues and Hashimoto’s. We are super sensitive to changes in our environment and our energy levels. 

It is important what kind of exercise you are doing and at what intensity you are doing it at. It is not just about burning too many calories. If you are burning through your nutrients faster than you can replenish them through your diet then your body will slow down your metabolism and the production of T4 which converts to T3. If you are exercising more and not eating enough to restore your energy levels your body will adjust your metabolism accordingly. You could even be doing a small amount of exercise but if you are restricting your calories your body will do what it has to to preserve itself. The kind of exercise you are doing may not be as important as the total amount of energy you are using up in one day. 

Believe it or not, when you have thyroid problems, the most important thing to eat for your thyroid is high quality carbohydrates. Low carb or ketogenic diets can have negative effects on thyroid hormone production. One reason behind this is that you need glucose to convert T4 to T3. This means you need carbohydrates  to make this happen. 

Another reason is that having too many fatty acids circulating in your bloodstream can keep T4 from converting to T3. 

Having high amounts of cortisol present in your blood can prevent T3 from getting in to  your cells. This can occur from lots of exercise, lots of stress and being on a low carb or high fat diet. 

If you are exercising regularly and have thyroid problems such as hypothyroidism you need to make sure you are supporting your blood sugar levels to keep them stable. This might mean that you have to eat sweet potatoes or white rice before or after your workout or maybe both before and after your workout. 

Just because carbs are great for thyroid health doesn’t mean fat is not as well. Saturated fat in particular is needed for cholesterol production. Cholesterol is a part of every single cell in your body. It keeps your cells and your brain healthy. You also need fat to carry the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K to your cells. Being deficient in any of these vitamins will affect your thyroid health. Liver would be a great addition to your diet to help keep your thyroid healthy.  You can also get saturated fat from coconut oil and full fat coconut milk (best to buy it in a BPA free can) with no fillers. High quality grass fed butter and ghee are also great sources. Red meat, especially organ meats and wild caught sustainable oily fish are good sources of saturated fat as well. 

Much of the conversion of T3 happens in your gut so it is important you have a healthy gut which includes the proper balance of gut flora. Healing your gut with bone broth, supplementing with L-glutamine and colostrum can be helpful. 

The best exercise for you and your thyroid health is to do a small amount of high intensity exercise (lifting heavy things) for a short period of time (under 1 hour) once a week with more restorative exercise like yoga or swimming a couple of times a week. Walking on a daily basis is great exercise and is also great for your adrenal health. It is important for you to know and listen to your body. Know what is right for you and don’t try to overdo it. I recently started lifting weights at a gym and really enjoyed it. The feeling of getting stronger was a real confidence booster. I was very careful about making sure I ate enough everyday and included carbs in my diet as well to maintain energy levels. Then one day I over did it and didn’t eat enough. The next day resulted in me lying on the couch for the whole day. My energy levels were destroyed. Bottom line here is that you need to take it slow and take it easy when you start exercising. If you don’t have the energy for a workout then just go for a walk. It is so good for your body is so many ways. Like I mentioned before it is especially good for your adrenals. It will also boost your mood and if you are dealing with chronic illness that is always a plus. 

In Health, 

Stephanie