4 Strategies I Use to Manage Hashimoto's - Part 2: I Quit The Gym (And Joined a Yoga Studio)
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a recommendation or medical advice. I’m simply sharing my experience and strategies that have helped reduce my symptoms in hopes this will help you find what works for you. If you are looking to make changes work with medical practitioner in integrative medicine. If you are in the Chicagoland area and looking to work with a registered dietitian, please contact me.
In case you missed part one in this series check out the three nutrient supplements I use support my immune system.
My mentality towards exercise has shifted over the last two years. I’ve learned for my body, less is more.
How did I go from a super active person to deciding not to step foot in a gym again? Let's back up and chat about how it all started. My active lifestyle started all the way back when I was a kid. In 4th grade I joined recreational soccer and 5th grade I joined the cross-country team. I ran long distances, pushed my body, and trained year round for many years. I was an avid runner, soccer player, and have had several gym memberships into my early twenties. I loved the mood boosting effects of being active, and can still recall what it feels like to have "runner's high."
I left organized sports behind in high school so in college I had to find a new outlet, which landed me in the gym. A heavy work and school load disrupted my typically active routine, but I tried to keep up with fitting in workouts. Despite being diagnosed with Hashimoto's I kept at the same approach, even though I was symptomatic at the time: cold hands and feet, muscle aches, foggy head, and fatigue plagued me. I struggled with any activity, yet forced myself to say active. I started on medication, and was managing my symptoms "ok," a pattern that continued as I completed my degree.
After finishing school and completing my internship I dove headfirst into my first job as a dietitian with Lifetime Fitness. I became re-energize to find my “fit” self again. Workouts became a priority and I found myself working out with my personal trainer co-workers. I lifted weights, joined group classes, and was fitter than I’d been in a long time.
So, what made me quit the gym and join a yoga studio instead?
I began to notice exercise was a struggle. I didn't enjoy it anymore. I had bouts of fatigue, muscle aches, and headaches yet continued to push myself at the gym with weight lifting and high intensity interval training. My legs felt like weights were attached to them as I'd trudge along for a half-hearted run. What I didn’t realize at the time was I was hurting my body more than helping it.
I became used to feeling sick, tired and in desperate need of a nap. I decided to exercise less, cutting down to 30 minute workouts a few times per week. It didn’t help. I still felt awful, and burned out. I couldn’t figure out an exercise routine that worked for me. I realized that what worked for me in the past no longer felt good. Unfortunately, this went on for a few years.
So, in late 2014 I stopped working out altogether. As an active person, this wasn’t good for my mental health. I liked to be fit and active - it had been part of my routine for so long.
I knew my body needed something else. It was time for a change.
I had practiced yoga a bit before, picking up a class here or there at my gym. In the spring of 2015 I joined Yoga Six and everything changed. The idea of "less is more" when it comes to exercise was scary for me at first. I played competitive sports for a long time and wondered if yoga would be "enough" of a workout.
The first thing I noticed? I didn't feel like crap after class.
After a few months practicing I was hooked. I felt a little calmer, less achy and less stressed. Yoga has become my mainstay not only for physical, but mental health. Slowly but surely I could see and feel the changes in my body.
Yoga taught me to tune into my body and be more mindful.
I began to notice when I wanted to push more myself more, and when to back off and rest instead. Regular yoga practice improved my balance, flexibility and strength without fear of over doing it or suffering from a flare up. The cool thing is this is supported by science. Research suggests yoga practice can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses often found in autoimmune conditions. I experienced emotional benefits, too. Yoga has helped to relieve stress and anxiety, build confidence, and taught me what it means stay in the present. Yoga made me love to move my body again.
Now I approach physical activity with more joy than I have in a long time. Strenuous gym workouts have been replaced by activity that makes me feel good. Now I stick to hiking, walking and occasionally incorporate some light strength training. Yoga is my mainstay, but I like to mix it up too!
So why do individuals with Hashimoto's experience muscle weakness, exercise intolerance, cramps and fatigue?
It comes down to energy production. Hypothyroidism induces metabolic myopathy, a condition of abnormal muscle energy metabolism. The body lacks it’s essential metabolic driver (thyroid hormone), so it can’t produce sufficient energy for regular metabolism, let alone exercise. The result is decreased exercise tolerance and low exercise recovery. AKA decreased ability to perform exercise at what would be considered your “normal,” and the inability to bounce back after exercise. Exercise with Hashimoto’s has many benefits, but it’s the duration (how long) and type that may or may not be beneficial.
How do I know if I have exercise intolerance?
Look out for:
Muscle aches and cramps
Muscle weakness or decreased strength
Weakened immune system
If you are experiencing exercise intolerance and low exercise recovery, consider modifying your exercise routine.
Approach exercise mindfully. Incorporate mindful movement that feels good: yoga, walking, hiking and tai chi
Limit high intensity workouts, excessive cardio, and long duration exercise
If you need a nap, take a nap. Rest and recovery is crucial to manage Hashimoto’s
What does your exercise routine look like? Have you experienced the benefits of yoga? Tell me in the comments!