The Ultimate Thyroid Patient Exercise Program -- Exercise to Help Hypothyroid Patients Get Fit and Lose Weight / Thyroid Disease Information Source - Articles/FAQs
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The Ultimate Thyroid Patient Exercise Program
Exercise to Help Hypothyroid Patients Get Fit and Lose Weight

by Mary Shomon

(Note: As always, talk to your healthcare provider before embarking on a new exercise program).

If you're a thyroid patient who is trying to lose weight, eventually you are going to discover one of the most important issues of all -- the absolute need for exercise. For most people with a thyroid condition, the combination of a slowed metabolism, a higher susceptbility to simple carbohydrates (like sugar, white flour, and white rice products), and increased insulin resistance, make weight loss difficult. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible.

But as someone who is hypothyroid, and who is still facing my own weight loss challenge, the one thing I can tell you that is absolutely essential is exercise. You may say that you don't have time, or energy to exercise, or you can't afford to join a gym. No more excuses!!

You need about 40 minutes, 3 to 4 times a week, and you don't need any special equipment, except for a pair of walking shoes or sneakers, and a watch or stopwatch.

20-Minute Interval Aerobics

Borrowing from the popular Body For Life book's approach, the best possible way you can approach aerobic exercise is to follow an "Interval" training approach that allows you to start at any level of fitness you are capable of, but builds in an improvement in your fitness over time. You should strive to do this at least 3 times a week.

How it works is that you choose an aerobic activity -- it can be walking outside, running, jumproping, bicycling, dancing, or climbing stairs, or using gym or home equipment like a treadmill, elliptical trainer, stair climber, or stationary bike, for example. Now, imagine the absolutely hardest you could possibly work at doing this activity. That's a level "10" of exertion. Now, cut that level in half, in terms of speed, effort, etc., and that's a level "5." That's where you're going to begin...with 2 minutes of your activitiy at level 5. Then, after the two minutes are up, kick up the speed or intensity a bit to level 6, for 1 minute. Then a bit faster/harder, for level 7 for a minute. A bit faster/harder, for level 8 for a minute. Then, push to almost the highest intensity you possibly can, a level 9, for a minute. At level 9, you should be going pretty much as hard as you think you can.

Note: Now, keep in mind, if you are just starting out, a level 5 may just be walking at a medium pace, and level 9 may be walking along at a brisk stride, not necessarily breaking track and field records. This is all relative to YOU. What is a level 9 to your friend, may be just a level 5 to you, or vice versa. )

In any case, back to the exercise program. After you reach level 9 for one minute, you go back to level 6 for a minute. Again, keep upping the intensity for minute-long intervals, level 7, and level 8 a minute each, until you reachlevel 9, for a minute. Then, back again to level 6, and again, a minute at each intensity level up to 9.

The fourth run-through, you again go through levels 6 through 9, but thisitime, during minute 18-19, you go to level 10. That's the hardest/fastest you can possibly go. But only for a minute.

At level 10, you may want to stop or slow down, but remember. This isn't a marathon. Keep telling yourself that you can do ANYTHING for a minute. And you really can. A minute passes so quickly, even when you're pushing as hard as you can!! When the minute is done, kick back, and relax at level 5, as you wind down for the final minute.

Here's an easy chart showing how this works.

MinuteAerobic Workout Intensity

Every time you exercise, you need to adjust where your level 5 and level 10 are. As you first get started, some days, your level 5 may be a bit less than the previous time. Other days, when you really start to feel more energetic, you'll start out at a higher level 5, and reach a higher level 10. But over time, you'll definitely keep improving, as your aerobic capacity and strength improves.

Strength Circuit

Muscle burns calories and raises metabolism. So building muscle strength, and doing weight bearing exercise, is a critical part of your fitness program. What you want to do is some sort of strength trainign that works the major muscle groups. The following circuit training approach can be done at home, and requires no special equipment. All you need to do is a circuit of three exercises -- lunges, pushups and leg raises. These exercises target all key parts of the body.

Lunges are good for strengthening and firms your legs and rear end. Pushups help with upper arms, shoulders, and the back. Leg raises are good for abdominals, and also help the lower back.

Your objective is to do the exercises in a "circuit," meaning that you do as many of one exercise as you can until you can't do another one, then move on to the next exercise, etc. When you've finished one circuit (series of the three exercises) you rest a minute or two, then go back through the circuit again. The objective is to repeat the circuit three times.

Keep in mind, as you begin, that you may only be able to do one or two of each exercise in each round of the circuit. So say, you do two left lunges, two right lunges, then 2 pushups, and 5 crunches. That's fine. Rest a minute or two. Do a second circuit. Rest again. Then stop, or do a third circuit. Next time, see if you can add one repetition to each set, 2 lunges on each leg, 3 pushups, etc. The point is to keep challenging yourself, and keep improving from where YOU begin. If you're doing it with a friend, so what if your friend can do 10 lunges and you can only do 5. Just do what YOU can do, and next time, try to improve your personal best.

Leg Lunges

  1. Stand with your feet apart, shoulder-width, keeping hands at your side.
  2. Take a deep breath, and step backward with the right foot so that your right knee is a few inches above the floor. Make sure your right knee does not extend beyond the toes of your right foot. Keep your hands at your sides and look straight ahead.
  3. Exhale and bring the right leg back to the starting position, standing feet apart, hands at side.
  4. Repeat again with the right leg as many times as you can.
  5. Now, do the same witih your left leg, repeating as many times as you can.
Note: you can use hand weights to increase resistance.

Photo copyright Mary Shomon
Once complete, move on quickly to pushups.


  1. Lie face down, and put your hands on the floor, palms facing downward. Palms should be a bit wider than your shoulders.
  2. If you are doing a full pushup, your toes should be curled under on the floor, with back and legs straight.
  3. If a full pushup is too hard, do an easier pushup, with knees on the floor, rather than feet/toes.
  4. Exhale as you slowly push your body away from the floor using your arms.
  5. Inhale, while you lower your body almost to the ground, but do not touch the ground.
  6. Do this as many times as you can.

Once complete, move on quickly to leg raises.

Leg Raise
  1. Lie on your back on a towel, mat or carpet. Keep legs straight, and place your hands under your buttocks, to keep the pelvis tilted properly.
  2. While you exhale, bring your knees toward your chest, and head off the floor. Do not curl the neck and try to touch chin to chest. Instead, pick a point on the ceiling, and imagine your forehead being lifted toward that point on the ceiling.
  3. Inhale while lowering your head and straightening your legs, but do not touch the floor with your legs.
  4. Repeat this as many times as you can.

Photo copyright Mary Shomon

Rest for one to three minutes.

Then, repeat the circuit, starting again with the lunges.

Sounds easy, right? Try it!! After my first day's effort of two circuits (when I started, each circuit involved 5 lunges on each leg, 8 pushups, and about 15 of the leg raises/crunches) I was one hurting girl. Believe me...this program worked out muscles I didn't even know I HAD! I felt it for days. So get started, but go slow and don't overdo it at first!

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The Thyroid Diet: Manage Your Metabolism for Lasting Weight Loss, by Mary J. Shomon
Published Aug 2004 from HarperCollins, 400 pages, ISBN: 0-06-052444-8

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All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.