The Goldilocks Principle: What Exercises Are Just Right for You?

By: Andrea Wool

Average read time: 2.5 minutes

Not all exercise is created equal, especially for people who struggle with thyroid and autoimmune conditions. It’s important to find the sweet spot of exercise, which I call the ‘Goldilocks Principle’. Too little exercise isn’t enough to generate any real health benefits, while too much can aggravate your system and trigger an exercise-induced symptom flare-up.

Here are four questions designed to help you find the exercise that’s just right for you.

Why do you want to exercise?

Identifying an intention or goal for exercising will help you find the program that works for you. I recommend starting with a real-life goal, like “I want to be able to play tag with my kids,” or, “I want to go out dancing with my friends.” Identifying this goal will also help you stick to your exercise program once you have started.

Write your goal down somewhere that’s easily visible: a sticky note on your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator door, or your computer at work. This constant reminder will help motivate you.

What do you enjoy doing for fun?

When it comes to exercising, enjoyment is important. So make a list of things you like. Do you enjoy being outdoors? Do you like being around people? Do you like to work out at home? Do you crave time with your kids? These are important considerations when choosing a workout program.

For example, if you like to be outdoors, running, walking, or hiking are all good activities. Some people really like interacting with others, so a class at the gym might be a great idea. If you want to workout while spending time with your kids, you can do playground workouts, go biking together, or practice soccer drills.

The point here is that once you decide what you enjoy, there’s a way to incorporate exercise into it. And if you don’t know what you like, then start trying things. You’ll know pretty quickly what you prefer.

How severe are your thyroid and autoimmune conditions?

The intensity of your workout matters when finding that Goldilocks sweet spot. If you are struggling with thyroid symptoms (such as fatigue, hair loss, brain fog, or muscle aches), it is critical to start with short periods of low intensity exercise.

For many, the idea of moving your body when you’re in pain can be difficult and overwhelming. But I encourage you to try! Too much resting (i.e. sitting) can actually aggravate your symptoms. Instead, start with some gentle movement, like stretches, foam rolling, or perhaps some light dumbbell work. HIIT (high intensity interval training), CrossFit, or spinning might be too much here, depending on the severity of your symptoms.

For others with less severe symptoms, a more intense workout might be okay. However, it is important to keep your stress levels in mind (the stress that exercise puts on your body). Do you find your symptoms increase the more you exercise? Do you find that you have a flare-up more often than usual? If so, it means that your exercise is too intense, and you need to either slow down or find a different form of movement.

up next: How to Avoid an Exercise-Induced Symptom Flare-Up

How do you manage stress in other areas of your life?

As mentioned above, exercise causes stress to the body and in order to keep your overall stress levels low, you need to manage the other stresses in your life.

Make sure you are sleeping, eating nutrient-dense food, drinking water, meditating, and having fun. If your overall life stress is lower, your body will be able to handle the impact of a more intense workout. If your life stress is high, then focusing more on low intensity exercise will be best for your body.

Not too much, not too little

This is the ‘Goldilocks Principle’: finding what is just right for you – not too much and not too little. And make it fun! It’s important to remember that exercise is only one aspect of a well-rounded, healthy life. So find inspiration to do something you love and enjoy it!


About the Author

Andrea Wool is the founder and creator of Autoimmune Strong, an online fitness membership service designed specifically for people with autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia and other types of chronic pain. As someone who lives with hashimoto’s, celiac and fibromyalgia, Andrea experienced firsthand how difficult exercise can be for those living with chronic conditions, so she developed an exercise program designed to help regain her own strength and energy, without causing a symptom flare up. Now this program is used by women all over the world who want to get strong safely, in the comfort of their own homes. Andrea spends much of her free time running around chasing her rambunctious family- and she attributes her spunky energy to being Autoimmune Strong.