How to exercise properly with a hormonal imbalance or autoimmunity

If you have a hormonal imbalance or autoimmunity, you may be wondering, "Is exercise good or bad for me." This post includes my top tips to help you dial in your exercise so you can stay active and feel your best without worsening your hormonal imbalances or autoimmunity!

Whether you have been inactive for a long time or if you are a keen exerciser confused about exercise advice, this post has the information you need to reap the benefits of movement and train smarter, so you can heal and thrive.

Let me start by reinforcing what you already know– exercise is good for you! Moderate exercise can reduce inflammation, balance hormones, and reduce the symptoms of autoimmunity.  It can also elevate mood, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and improve strength and balance. The key here is MODERATION! If done too intensely, exercise can harm gut health, compromise your immune system, increase stress hormone production, and aggravate your autoimmune symptoms and hormonal imbalances.

I used to take an "all or nothing" mindset with my training and ignore obvious signs that some of my workouts exacerbated my autoimmune symptoms and hormonal imbalance. I subscribed to the notion that the harder I pushed myself, the healthier I would become. I mean, if I can run faster this week than I could last week, I MUST be healthier right? 

Flash forward a decade and I am happy to report that my previous workout goals of "push myself as hard as physically possible at all costs" have been replaced with "feel good, get strong, and work smarter, not harder." And I can honestly say that I am stronger and so much healthier than when I was an 'athlete.'  

These days, my weekly exercise regime is typically two yoga and pilates focused bodyweight strength workouts, one strength workout with weights, and two jogs outside (35 minutes or less, if I run for longer, I notice flare-ups). I also focus on getting outside for some movement every day, which is critical for me to feel my best.

I had to build up to the exercise tolerance I have today and I still am continuously adjusting my regime. When my health hit rock bottom a few years ago, I had to dial it back big time. Dialing back activity and intensity isn't easy – especially if you are used to hitting it hard in the gym. But as I have learned over the years, you have to honor where you are right now to get to where you want to be!

So how do you find that sweet spot with exercise?

Finding the sweet spot requires trial and error. The ideal amount of exercise varies from person to person and depends on many factors, including age, weight, history of exercise, and the severity of your hormonal imbalance or autoimmunity.

Here are my top tips to help you dial in your exercise so you can stay active and feel your best, without without further imbalancing your hormones or flaring your autoimmune symptoms:

If you have been sedentary and want to get started with exercise:

Start with low intensity and short duration: Start with frequent sessions of low intensity and short duration. If you haven't been doing movement for some time, start by walking for 10 minutes per day and build up to 30.

Start with low impact activites: Activities like walking, gardening, swimming, and gentle yoga and Pilates are good choices for getting started with exercise.

Be consistent: Move your body every day.

If you have been exercising and want to add intensity without increasing hormonal imbalance or autoimmunity:

Pay attention to how your workouts are making you feel: Taking an (honest) assement of how you feel during and after your workouts is crucial. If the workout does not trigger a flare-up, that is a sign that you can try increasing the duration and add some intensity.

Keep workouts short and sweet: Keeping things on the shorter side does not mean you won't work up a sweat or that your workouts won't be challenging! For example, opting for a 25-35 minute run with some intervals is a better choice for your hormones and gut health than a 90 minute or longer endurance run. Similarly, a 30 minute strength session with heavier weights is a better choice for your hormones and gut health than an hour-long session with lighter weights and tons of reps.

Add intensity and duration over time: Continue to add gentle increases in intensity, duration, and frequency to your exercise regime over time, as your body allows.

Extend grace to yourself: Repeat after me – your self worth is not tied to your exercise performance!

Recognize that progress is not linear: True change takes time and will ebb and flow. Progress is not an upward trajectory where you just feel stronger and more amazing with every passing workout. This is real life and setbacks are inevitable. Responding to setbacks with patience and grace instead of resisting them will result in quicker recovery. You have to honor where you are right now to get to where you want to be.

Warning signs to look out for

If your workout triggers any of the symptoms below, you need to stop the activity until you feel better. The next time you exercise, dial back the intensity and duration. 

• Muscle/joint aches or pains (this is different from muscle soreness which is normal and expected from increasing workout intensity)
• Changes in digestion (bloating, gas, diarrhea/ constipation, undigested food in stool)
• Heartburn
• Nausea/vomiting
• Noticeable increase in anxiety and ability to cope with stress
• Mood swings
• Insomnia
• Increased fatigue
• Increased 'brain fog'
• Dizziness/lightheadedness
• Headache/migraine
• Any increases in your personal hormonal imbalance or autoimmune symptoms

Finding the sweet spot with exercise is a process, especially if you have a hormonal imbalance or autoimmunity. This process requires a lot of trial and error, but once you get to know your body and experience how good exercising in the sweet spot makes you feel it will be worth it!

Hi, I’m Chelsea Lye, CNP!

I’m a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, AIP Coach and Yoga teacher showing you how to balance your hormones and reverse autoimmunity naturally.

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