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Is Your Thyroid Hindering Your Progress?

You’re doing everything right. You’re exercising regularly, eating healthy, yet you can’t lose weight. Or you get extremely overheated when you work out. Or you’re constantly fatigued, and don’t know why. What gives? Try checking your thyroid. No, seriously. According to the American Thyroid Association, women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. Aside from being a major health concern, undiagnosed thyroid problems can also affect how you exercise and what you eat.

    First, the million-dollar question(s): what is the thyroid, anyway, and what does it do? The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, and it creates and distributes hormones that regulate and stimulate metabolic function. It is part of your overall endocrine system. When it’s working, your body’s metabolic function operates normally, but when it gets out of whack, your metabolism can either slow down or speed up. Hyperthyroidism is when your metabolism is in overdrive, and can be caused by Graves’ disease. People who have hyperthyroidism may see an increase in unintentional weight loss, and may also get extremely overheated when they exercise. Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, is when your metabolism is sluggish, and can be caused by Hashimoto’s disease. People with this condition could see an increase in weight gain – even with a normal exercise routine and healthy diet. Hypothyroidism sufferers also report feeling fatigued, and some even report suffering from depression!

    So how do you amend your workout routine and diet when you’ve got a funky thyroid? If you’re suffering from hyperthyroidism, it is important that you keep your exercise in check (30-60 minutes per day for aerobic exercise), as excessive exercising can put your already active heart rate into overdrive, potentially causing heart failure (if your condition is left untreated). Those with hypothyroidism also need to take care, as their heart rate is naturally slower, and a return to a vigorous exercise routine could cause a jolt to the heart (again, if the condition is left untreated). For both conditions, aerobic exercise and strength training are recommended, along with yoga or Pilates as alternative activities – and hypothyroid sufferers should engage in low impact aerobic exercise, as it’s less pressure on the joints (joint pain is a symptom of hypothyroidism).

    So what about your diet? What ingredients or foods impact the thyroid? Well, for one, avoid extra iodine. While iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism, the American diet contains plenty of iodine already – so iodine supplements and extra servings of iodine-rich foods, such as kelp, are out. And pay attention to how much soy you are consuming. If you have Hashimoto’s disease, too much soy could cause hypothyroidism, and soy itself can affect the body’s absorption of thyroid hormones in general. Experts do recommend trying to add selenium into your diet, if possible, as limited studies have shown a connection between it and the reduction of inflammation in those with Hashimoto’s disease. It may also delay the progression into hypothyroidism. 200 micrograms of selenium 1-2 times per day is recommended, and you can get this trace element naturally by consuming Brazil nuts (about 3-5).

    It is possible to live a healthy, normal life with a less-than-perfect thyroid, but only if your condition is treated. Untreated thyroid problems can pose dangerous health risks, along with a frustrating platter of unwanted side effects – which can affect both the type of exercise you do, as well as your motivation to keep exercising. If you suspect you are experiencing symptoms of a thyroid condition, get your doctor to check it out immediately. And if you have a thyroid condition, check with your doctor before starting (or continuing) any sort of exercise routine. Even though it may be small, that little butterfly-shaped gland has a HUGE impact on your body, so it’s important to take care of it and make sure it’s working properly. You’re worth it!