Thyroid function and its role in the body
The thyroid is an endocrine gland that wraps around the trachea just under Adam’s apples. Its main function is the production and secretion of hormones, among which are very important thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which affect metabolic processes throughout the body. The hormone calcitonin, which regulates calcium levels, is also found here. Thyroid hormones thus control energy consumption in body organs and tissues, growth and development, and thermal regulation.
Thyroid dysfunction is most often expressed by its decreased or increased function. In the case of reduced activity, we are dealing with hypothyroidism and slowed metabolism. Excessive activity is called hyperthyroidism, where a faster metabolism is observed. Both cases affect both our body and well-being and can seriously endanger our health.
The thyroid gland does not produce and secrete enough hormones for the body to function normally. A common cause is an autoimmune inflammation called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It may be caused by a lack of iodine in the diet, also in some women, a temporary deterioration in thyroid function is observed after childbirth. The cause may also be an attempt to treat hyperthyroidism with surgery or radioactive iodine. The rate of disease progression, as well as the intensity and type of symptoms, depend on the cause, the type of treatment, and the relief of symptoms.
The most common symptoms or consequences of hypothyroidism include:
- increased fatigue
- increased sensitivity to cold
- weight gain
- swelling around the neck, in some cases also the face
- dry skin and hair
- stronger and more painful menstruation are observed in women
The dangers posed by the disease are: heart disease, inability to conceive, joint pain, obesity.
The opposite occurs in hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid gland secretes hormones excessively. A very common cause is another autoimmune disease, called Graves’ disease. Improperly functioning thyroid tissue or other forms of inflammation can also cause hyperthyroidism.
The symptoms that accompany the disease are:
- nervousness, anxiety
- sensitivity to heat
- swelling around the neck
- weight loss
- fast and / or irregular heartbeat
- sleeping problems
- more frequent bowel movements
- muscle weakness
- in women, irregular menstruation
The disease can lead to heart complications or osteoporosis.
The impact of exercise
For people who are experiencing symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, regular exercise is an even bigger challenge. However, regular exercise can help alleviate these symptoms. With exercises we can raise energy levels and lower the feeling of fatigue, which is a common sign of hypothyroidism. The release of endorphins counteracts feelings of depression and improves your overall well-being. Insufficiently active thyroid slows down the metabolism, on the contrary, exercise speeds it up. This is especially important for people who have problems with obesity due to hypothyroidism and find it harder to lose weight. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism increase the risk of heart complications, while regular exercise reduces its chances.
Type and amount of physical activity
There are many ways to exercise regularly, and your health condition is also important when choosing. If you successfully control your thyroid disease and you are otherwise a relatively healthy person, you can exercise similarly to people without thyroid problems. If you are not sure, consult your personal doctor before you start exercising.
For those who have not exercised regularly so far, we advise you to start slowly. Choose a low-intensity activity and gradually progress to more demanding ones. You can start with walking, cycling, yoga, hiking, dancing, water aerobics, swimming, beginner strength exercises… It is important that you enjoy the activity and adapt it to your abilities. This will make it easier to include physical activity in your weekly schedule. Your body will gradually get used to the intensity and eventually you will be ready for more intense and demanding exercises.
According to WHO (World Health Organization), 150 minutes of medium-intensity aerobic activity per week (for example 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week) or 75 minutes of high-intensity, or a combination of both, is recommended for noticeable health improvement. Aerobic activity should last at least 10 minutes without interruption. Duplicate these weekly recommendations for an additional positive impact on health. Perform strength exercises on larger muscle groups twice a week.
For the most appropriate start and progress to the desired effects on your health, adjust the exercise to your abilities or consult an expert in the field of exercise and movement.
Boštjan Holobar, kinesiologist