Exercise And Sickness (4 of 6): How To Exercise With A Low Thyroid

Don’t Let your thyroid slow your metabolism down!

Let’s say your thyroid is making you feel constantly tired, brain fogged, and depressed. Your body is constantly cold, your skin is dry, your muscles hurt, as well as your joints. On top of all of that, your hair is falling out as you’ve never experienced before, your face looks puffy, and you are gaining weight even though you are not overeating besides going to the gym.

Your thyroid is giving you mood swings, making you feel misunderstood and lonely. Your weight is making you feel ashamed of your body and you just want to hide. You don’t even hang out with your friends any longer.

So you think to yourself: “If I could just lose those extra pounds that keep piling up, I wouldn’t be so desperate.”

Yeah… what’s up with that?  You probably have heard somewhere that your thyroid slowed down your metabolism so, if you speed it up, you will have a chance to get better and lose weight.

Cardio exercises come to mind: running, cycling, the elliptical machine. Suddenly you find yourself hitting the gym 4, 5, 6 times a week, 1 hour per day, making yourself sweat because, in your head, sweat = fast metabolism.

But the weight is not going down, so you think maybe you should eat fewer calories than a normal person because you are not normal, “your thyroid is messed up”. So now, besides working out with an exhausted body, you are depriving your body of energy by eating very little calories.

And when you weigh yourself again… boom! You have gained another couple of pounds, just like that!

Is this picture familiar to you?

That’s exactly what I went through before I had any idea about diet and exercise. I was trying so hard to lose the weight and regain my energy back, but all that I was doing was the exact opposite of what I wanted.

Understanding Calories

Oh, calories… the hated numbers. Let me ask you though: do you even know what calories are?

When I made sense of what calories actually were, everything looked so much clearer to me. It was like I was looking at foods with different lenses, from a totally different perspective.

Let me try to explain it to you:

Calories are a unit used to measure heat and energy; it’s how we know how much energy would take us to raise the temperature of -or to burn- different things. For example, It would take us 110 calories (heat and energy) to burn a medium russet potato. Because of that, we know that a medium russet potato contains 110 calories. Wild, huh?

It would take us 5 calories (heat and energy) to burn a leaf of romaine lettuce. It would take us 480 calories to burn 1/4 of a cup of olive oil. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

The same applies when we work out: our bodies need to warm up a certain amount to burn the energy to perform different exercises. That’s why someone who is 180 pounds, for example, will lose more calories walking the same speed for the same amount of time, than someone who is 130 pounds. Because since that person is heavier, it would take them more energy to move their body.

Person 1:

  • Speed = 3 mph
  • Weight = 180 lbs
  • Time = 1 hour
  • Calories burned = 480

Person 2

  • Speed = 3 mph
  • Weight = 130 lbs
  • Time = 1 hour
  • Calories burned = 347

As you can see, person 1’s body would have to heat up 480 calories to walk for 1 hour, and only 347 calories for person 2 (that’s why it is harder for us to lose those last 5-10 pounds!)

How Calories Burn When Someone Has A Slow Thyroid

You may be asking yourself: Well, ok, so how come I can’t lose weight even when I know how many calories I am burning?

The fact is, if you have a low thyroid, you don’t and, even if you did know, you would not want to be depriving yourself of so much.

Let me explain.

Besides the calories that we burn with physical activities throughout the day, our bodies also burn while we do NOTHING. That’s called BMR, our Basal Metabolic Rate. This means that when you are sleeping, your body is burning calories to keep you alive: for your heart to pump, your lungs to breathe, your cells to regenerate, your hormones to be released, etc.

To measure your BMR we need to consider your height, weight, age, and gender. The math is a bit complicated, but click on this link and I will take you to a BMR Calculator so that you don’t have to do the math yourself.

Let’s say our person number 1 is a 180 lbs, 5’5″ tall, 55-year-old woman. If she weren’t to have hypothyroidism, her BMR would be 1,485. This means that if she slept all day long, her body would need to burn 1,485 calories for her to survive.

Now, if she had a slow thyroid (hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), her BMR would be out of wack. That’s the metabolism that we want to speed up so much!

In the case of this person with a slow thyroid, her brain is telling her thyroid not to burn a lot of energy because her body is in storage mode.  Why? Because of stress. If you read the second post of this series, you know that our bodies react to physical, chemical, and emotional stress the exact same way.

When our thyroid gland is not working properly, our bodies enter a state of chronic stress since our thyroid is so important for our bodies. It regulates heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, mood, and bone maintenance! That is why the thyroid gland is what controls our metabolism.

If that vital part of our body isn’t working properly, our bodies enter a state of stress raising cortisol. When cortisol is up, thyroid levels are down. Every time.

(Learn more about How Stress Affects Weight by clicking HERE).

Is Your Body In Storage Mode?

If you read the second post of this series you already know what you should do for exercise while under stress. The thing is, if your thyroid is not under control (if you are not taking  any medication for it, nor you are modifying your diet and lifestyle to better your thyroid levels naturally), or if your thyroid levels are not under control regardless of the medications that you are taking, there is no question that your body is functioning in “storage mode”.

To your body, you were bitten by a shark and are having to swim 1,000 yards before you get to shore. So it slows down its function at its best, making your body very effective at working with the least amount of calories to burn. — it uses mainly adrenaline and cortisol as the sources of energy – instead of calories– and it stores every ounce of calorie that you eat, as fat, because there are more calories in a gram of fat than in carbs and protein. That’s you, “in storage mode”.

And why does it accumulate the fat around your belly? Because around your belly is where your vital organs are! Your body is accumulating the fat around your belly to protect your body from harm! Isn’t that incredible? (How can people still not trust their own bodies? I don’t know!)

How To Exercise With A Slow Thyroid

Now, let’s pretend our “person number 1” has a slow thyroid, but her thyroid levels are under control (either naturally, through diet and lifestyle, or through medication). How can she help her body heal? Cardio? Weights?… What?

The answer is WEIGHT TRAINING and/or YOGA.

For person number 1 to support her thyroid and help it speed up her BMR, she will have to incorporate heavy weight training and/or yoga into her exercise routine.

You have to build lean muscle.



By “heavy” I don’t mean picking up something that will give you a hernia or pop your knee out of place. The word “heavy” is very relative, but it just has to feel heavy to you.

The best way to know if something is actually heavy enough for you is to do one type of exercise (flexing your biceps with dumbbells – bicep curls -, for example) 8 times. The 8th time should be a little tough to do, but still possible. Then you rest for about a minute and do it again, 8 times. Rest again for a minute and do it again, 8 more times.

This means 3 sets of 8 reps. (This will help you gain lean muscle)

If the 8th rep of the 3rd set is very easy for you to do, you should increase the weight. Also, If you can’t get to the 6th rep of the 3rd set, that means that the weight is too heavy and you may end up hurting yourself.

Yoga and Pilates are great at building lean muscle mass by strengthening the core.

My recommendation is to:

  • Weight Train 2x/week
  • Yoga/Pilates 2x/week
  • 1hr  Walks at least 2x/week
why STRENGHT training?

I am going to try to explain this to you in a very easy way. Think of your muscles as batteries. To be able to spend energy using our metabolism (instead of adrenaline) , our batteries need to be full: our muscles need to be strong.

“Resistance training stimulates muscle growth. The stronger you are, the higher the rate of metabolism required to keep that muscle operational,” Dr. Ben Kelly Head of Preventative Medicine at Nuffield Health, told The Independent.

What about Cardio?

You may do cardio if you want, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t. It will just stimulate your body to accumulate more cortisol around your belly. Cardio exercises are counteractive when you have a slow thyroid. You burn calories, but your body ends up holding on to more calories than you burn, from the foods that you eat.

Instead, go for long walks, lay-back bike rides, little jogs here and there, etc. Move your body, but not in an exertion state. That’s why HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is also not a good idea when your thyroid is compromised in any way.

I hope that this post made sense to you.


Me, back in 2013, when I was trying to lose weight by doing cardio almost every day and restricting calories, without success.



In my upcoming books, you will also be learning about the dietary and lifestyle changes that you need to do to support different health conditions. The Thyroid is one of them!


My body, after I put into practice what I preach.
I still have hypothyroidism, but I control it naturally.

If you would like to stay tuned, make sure to check your stress level and sign up for bi-weekly newsletters.


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My hope is that you can always reach your health and wellness goals!

Always choose to be healthy!

In Health,

Gabi Brandao
Disease Prevention Advocate, Blogger, Author, Speaker, Certified Holistic Health and Wellness Coach by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Board Certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, and Licensed Medical Massage Practitioner by the Virginia Board of Nursing


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