Mary was a mother of two with hypothyroidism who began a vigorous exercise program of weight lifting and running, one to two hours a day, six days a week, hoping to boost her weight loss. Not only did she fail to lose weight, she actually gained weight, and found herself battling fatigue, irritability, and constant colds and flus. As it turns out, Mary was exercising too much.

Overtraining weakens the body

While regular exercise is vital to good health, studies show overtraining can actually deplete hormones, depress immunity, lead to bone loss, increase the risk of injuries, slow healing, increase inflammation, and cause a general feeling of burn-out.  For the person striving to manage a thyroid condition, all these factors can work against her.

Also, studies show hypothyroidism affects athletic performance in a number of ways. It creates more muscle weakness and cramping, impairs cardiac function and blood flow, and hampers the ability of muscles to use fatty acids for energy, thus limiting endurance.

Sufficient recovery between exercise sessions and exercising at an appropriate intensity will get you fitter faster without compromising your thyroid health.

Overtraining and high cortisol

Overtraining causes your body to pump out extra cortisol, a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands that helps us cope with stress. High cortisol can cause bone loss, and muscle breakdown, create belly fat, increase sugar cravings, and lead to insulin resistance, a pre-diabetic condition that causes high blood sugar.

Overtraining and low cortisol

Some people who overtrain suffer from low cortisol, which can lead to weight gain, fatigue, low blood sugar (with dizziness, light-headedness, and irritability), muscle weakness, difficulty recovering from workouts, and poor immune strength.

Both high and low cortisol negatively affect thyroid health, making cortisol management paramount when addressing a hypothyroid condition.

American life is already stressful

Clearly, neither high nor low cortisol produces the desired effects of an exercise regime, and both cause a chronic inflammatory state that ages you quickly. Throw in other factors of modern American life—stressful lifestyles, too little sleep, poor diets, too many sweets and caffeine—and overtraining can be the tipping point into cortisol-driven disorders.

And, of course, the person with Hashimoto’s should strictly avoid gluten, another stressor that can flare up a hypothyroid condition.

Symptoms of overtraining

How much exercise is too much? This varies from person to person. Overtraining for one person can be another person’s warm up. An adrenal salivary panel will show you your cortisol levels, but it’s especially important to pay attention to signals from your body, which is harder than it sounds for the driven athlete accustomed to pushing the envelope.

Symptoms of overtraining include persistent tiredness, worsening strength and stamina, sleep disturbances, slow recovery, aching joints or limbs, injuries, and frequent illness, to name a few.  Also, symptoms of hypothyroidism may worsen.

More thyroid hormones are not the answer

More thyroid hormones are not the answer to get through an overly demanding exercise regimen. Too much thyroid hormone medication can cause thyroid hormone resistance, hence worsening symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Exercise should boost energy, not drain it

Appropriate exercise boosts your energy and your sense of well-being. And while some muscle soreness is normal, you should experience energy, mental focus, and a good mood during recovery periods between workouts.

Ask us about an adrenal cortisol panel to help you establish and appropriate intensity level for your workouts. Also, ask us about ways to manage your hypothyroid condition—for 90 percent of Americans, an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s causes hypothyroidism. The immune system, not the thyroid gland, should be the main focus of health management.