The Benefits of Exercise After Thyroid Cancer

Patient Expert

After thyroid cancer treatment, you may experience a variety of residual symptoms. One of the most commonly reported symptoms is fatigue, which is estimated to occur in up to 90 percent of patients. The post-cancer fatigue in patients has been shown to reduce the quality of life, and increase anxiety and stress levels.

Korean researchers have a straightforward solution, reported in the journal Thyroidin late 2017.

Researchers looked at the impact of a home-based exercise program for papillary thyroid cancer patients taking thyroid hormone replacement medication after surgical removal of the thyroid (thyroidectomy.) Their goal was to evaluate the levels of fatigue, anxiety, quality of life, and immune function in the patients.

The study group received training in the exercise program along with a video training app for their smartphones. After their training, they followed the prescribed 12-week program of aerobic, resistance, and flexibility exercises. The study group was compared to a group of post-thyroidectomy thyroid cancer survivors who did not follow the exercise program.

The exercise program included:

  • Walking, three to five days a week for a minimum of at least 150 minutes a week.
  • Resistance exercise for the upper and lower body, twice a week, with more than two sets per workout. Stretch bands were used for resistance, and water bottles as hand weights.
  • Flexibility exercise, with a 5-minute session of seven different range of motion exercises, performed over 12 weeks before and after aerobic and resistance exercises.

Patients were asked to journal their exercise during the 12-week study period, and received text and phone call reminders throughout the study.

The patients were also maintained at Korean Thyroid Association-recommended suppressed thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels, consistent with their cancer staging:

  • High-risk: 0.1 to 0.5 mU/L
  • Low-risk: 0.3 to 2.0 mU/L

The research found several important benefits for the group that exercised, compared to the control group. These benefits included:

  • Significant reductions in fatigue and anxiety
  • Significant increases in quality of life
  • Significant increases in natural killer immune cell activity, a sign of improved immune function
  • Significant increases of triiodothyronine (T3) in the exercising group, along with decreased TSH levels, and increased free thyroxine (free T4) levels
  • Significant decreases increase in cholesterol, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels

The researchers concluded that:

"A home-based exercise program is effective in reducing fatigue and anxiety, improving quality of life, and increasing immune function in patients taking thyroid hormone replacement after thyroidectomy. Therefore, such home-based exercise program can be used as an intervention for patients who are taking thyroid hormone replacement after thyroidectomy."

What should you do?

The level of exercise in the recommended home exercise program featured in this study is similar to a variety of other recommended levels of activity for overall health and improved energy and mood. Translation: We should all be getting this amount of exercise on a regular basis!

The study, however, highlights the particular value of self-care - in the form of exercise - after thyroidectomy and thyroid cancer treatment. If you are a thyroid cancer survivor and you're tired or anxious, consider starting an exercise program, whether at home, at a gym, or with a trainer, with parameters similar to the program studied in this research.

See more helpful articles:

Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

How is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?

Thyroid Hormone Replacement After Thyroid Cancer