Are You Over Exercising and Damaging Your Thyroid?

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Whilst exercising is well known to be beneficial and in fact crucial for good health, there is such a thing as over exercising.

Could you be pushing your body too far and causing more harm than good?

A photo of Rachel in sportswear

Great care should be taken with physical activity when you live with endocrine issues such as thyroid disease or adrenal dysfunction (note: it is more accurately referred to as hypothalamic-pituitary axis dysfunction), as too much exercise can exacerbate these conditions and actually cause us to feel worse. The thyroid gland regulates the body’s metabolism (this is its most important job) and impacts every cell and function in the body. When it doesn’t work properly, e.g. underperforms, this causes hypothyroidism – a slowing down of many bodily processes.

However, repeatedly engaging in overly demanding exercise can cause a surge of biochemical imbalances to occur within the body, including the disruption of the hypothalamus-pituitary axis, which can reduce thyroid function. Intense cardio, marathon running and training, obsessive weight lifting etc. with little to no recovery time can all cause extreme stress to the body and particularly the thyroid.

When the body is under stress – emotional stress, mental stress, as well as physical stress – it responds by producing cortisol, a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Many of us with hypothyroidism already have stressed-out and overworked adrenal glands, due to the stress of having (often undiagnosed/undertreated) hypothyroidism, even without knowing. This means that we could have high cortisol levels almost constantly, where our body is in a constant stressed-out mode, and producing more cortisol is only going to add to this.

When cortisol is overly produced, it can inhibit thyroid function and cause adrenal dysfunction, where, even if our thyroid test results look OK, we still feel rubbish. Or we ‘pool‘ T3, where we have on-going issues and symptoms. You’ll need to check your cortisol levels with a 24 hour, four point saliva test to confirm.

Sara Gottfried also explains in her book that a sign of adrenal issues can include trying to exercise, only to find you crash, feeling light-headed and faint. This is due to cortisol being part of the glucocorticoid family, a substance that raises your glucose level. It is cortisol’s job to give you the energy you need. When you have this reaction to exercise, it’s a sign you’ve used up your main energy supply as you’re perhaps low on cortisol and so don’t have enough ready to use.

You may think you are following a perfectly healthy workout routine, when in reality you could actually be causing some serious damage to your body. It is important for us to know therefore when enough is enough and when we need to slow things down. Listening to our bodies is crucial and taking things at our own pace will help us avoid causing any issues with over exercising.

I have read in several books, including Dr Skinner’s and Sara Gottfried’s, that they’re unsurprised by marathon runners who eventually get struck down with endocrine issues such as thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, due to the intense and unneeded stress this puts on the body. As someone who witnessed their other half train and complete a marathon a couple of years ago, I’m not surprised! It’s crazily demanding on the body and I wonder if we get to a certain point with marathon and long distance running, where it’s actually no more beneficial to the body and is instead just harmful. Afterall, how can 20+ miles not be a huge stress to the body?

Although there are benefits to higher intensity training, such as burning more body fat and building lean muscle, without maintaining a good balance of exercising, resting and recuperating, along with proper nutrition, setbacks in our health and symptoms can plague us.

Signs that you need to take things slower and reevaluate your exercise regime include:

Adding to that, I would also explore the full list of adrenal fatigue(note: it is more accurately referred to as hypothalamic-pituitary axis dysfunction) symptoms here.

Activities that tend to be popular among thyroid patients include: yoga, pilates, swimming, walking and even dancing. Anything that can be done in the comfort of your own home and at your own pace is a big plus and if you can add a social aspect into it too – perhaps getting friends to support you – even better!

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.

This post may contain affiliate links, to find out more information, please read my disclosure statement.
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Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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Rachel Hill is a highly ranked and award-winning Thyroid Patient Advocate, blogger and author. She has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, The BBC, The Mighty, Yahoo, MSN, Dr. HedbergThyroid Refresh and ThyroidChange, to name just a few. She is well-recognised as a useful contributor to the thyroid community and also contributed the foreword to Emily Kyle’s The 30-Minute Thyroid Cookbook. She received Six 2018 WEGO Health Award Nominations.

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