It’s widely understood that exercise is an important, if not critical, part of staying healthy. Less understood is that even if one appears to be in good physical health, over exercise or regularly overexerting one’s body causes more harm than good.
It is not uncommon for highly driven individuals to overindulge in exercise to reach their fitness goals as fast as possible. Unfortunately, this ultimately impairs their progress and can cause widespread bodily dysfunction. Perhaps the greatest casualty of this practice is one’s thyroid. This small gland regulates the body’s metabolism and impacts every cell in the body. By maintaining an overly active and stressful lifestyle, one may be unwittingly destroying part of their body’s most widely impactful system. Take part in National Physical Health Month this May by educating yourself on exercise and recognizing its impact on the thyroid.
What Does Over Exercise Look Like?
One may think they are following a perfectly healthy workout routine but actually be causing serious damage to their body. Excessive training and over exercising can be occur with any physical activity. A prominent challenge is recognizing that one is pushing their body to its limit, or even past it, on a regular basis. Although there are benefits to higher intensity training such as burning more body fat and building lean muscle, without maintaining a proper balance of exercise, rest, and nutrition, frustrating and painful symptoms can develop. Instead of promoting the hallmark attributes of healthy exercise; improved mood, greater burning of fat and increased energy, over exercise can result in numerous harmful symptoms.
Indicators of over exercise include:
- Mood swings
- Loss of muscle
- Increased fat retention
- Long-lasting fatigue
- Afternoon malaise
- Digestive issues
- Disrupted sleep
- Reduced cognitive function
Stressing Your Body Out
Repeatedly engaging in high-stress and overly demanding exercise can cause a wave of biochemical imbalances to occur. Habits such as back-to-back weightlifting, intense cardio, and little to no recover time can all contribute to extreme stress on the body. This can harm numerous systems throughout the body, particularly the thyroid.
Stress in any form can negatively impact the hypothalamus-pituitary axis, which can reduce thyroid dysfunction. A primary element in the body’s stress response is the release of cortisol, appropriately referred to as the stress hormone. This hormone is secreted as part of the body’s natural stress response. But if cortisol is overly produced, it can inhibit thyroid function and cause adrenal fatigue.
Heavy-resistance exercises are recognized as inducing acute cortisol responses much like those presented in marathon runners. In both practices, over exercise is a common occurrence. Excess cortisol release, especially if it is done on a regular basis, negatively interacts with the thyroid resulting in the following symptoms:
- Disrupted sleep
- Digestive problems
- Weight gain
- Poor memory function
- Increased fat retention
These symptoms may have increased severity for those with a preexisting thyroid condition.
Overtraining may also result in immune system malfunction. Research shows that heightened stress can cause cell damage that may induce nonspecific, general activation of the immune system. This means that the immune system fires without any real reason. Stress caused by over exercise can trigger such a response. This may be why there is a notable presence of hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction among over trained athletes.
Unnecessary activation of the immune system on a regular basis increases the risk of developing autoimmune disorders. Some conditions in this category, such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis are closely related to thyroid dysfunction and are some of the greatest contributors thyroid disease.
Protecting Your Thyroid While Exercising
Clearly there is reason to be wary of over exercise, especially when one is experiencing thyroid dysfunction. However, it is also important to lead an active lifestyle to keep the body and thyroid working as intended. So how do we protect ourselves from overdoing physical activity while also exercising regularly?
A common issue connected to over exercising is an inappropriately high rate of activity. If you are experiencing symptoms of over exercise, try reducing the number of workout routines done on a weekly basis. High intensity, high stress activities should only be done two to three times a week. In part, exercise frequency is so impactful because it cuts into resting time and its reduces its efficacy. Sleep disturbances often accompany over exercise. Without proper rest the body cannot adequately restore its energy levels or repair damage. Consistent and healthy rest is just as important as regular healthy exercise.
Constructing a Workout
When following a workout routine, it is important to include exercises that are both beneficial and don’t induce a great deal of stress. However, a certain amount of stress will always accompany exercise because it involves pushing the body to execute difficult physical action. According to Yaraslav Gofnung, MD, an endocrinologist at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, CA. those with a thyroid condition should utilize low-impact aerobic exercises and strength training. In lieu of more intense, stress-inducing exercises, Igor Klibanov, personal trainer and author of “Unlimited Progress: How You Can Unlock Your Body’s Potential,” suggests the following exercises:
- Overhead presses
- Lat pull-downs
Klibanov recommends beginning with 15 reps of each exercise and working up to 20 reps over time. Regarding aerobics, one should look to engage in aerobic activity about three times a week and strength training with the above routine two to three days a week. If you feel lasting discomfort or are unable to comfortably complete your workout routine, try reducing the intensity by lowering reps or reducing the frequency of workouts. It may be beneficial to seek aid from a personal trainer or slowly initiate your routine by doing it once or twice a week rather than beginning it at full capacity. Everyone’s fitness level is different therefore their starting point will differ depending on the individual.
Find What Works for You
Protecting your thyroid is equally important as engaging in regular exercise. Thankfully, the two are not mutually exclusive. By taking the proper precautions and adapting to your body’s fitness and rest needs you can partake in healthy exercise that promotes thyroid function rather than disrupt it. Celebrate National Physical Health Month by finding the exercises and routine that works best for you and your thyroid.