the exercise, overtraining and hypothyroidism conundrum: how much is too much?

** Disclaimer: the opinions and views on this post are strictly mine based on my personal treatment of hypothyroidism.  Consult your physician before you start any exercise program or if you have any medical questions.

Much has been said about the relationship between exercises and hypothyroidism.  We all know that exercising is a vital part of a healthy life and the benefits are well documented also: increased energy, stamina, and changes to body composition.  But if you are hypothyroid like me, we need to have a little chat about how much exercise is too much 
Sometimes we tend to go a bit overboard in our quest to lose the unwanted weight that results from hypothyroidism to the point that we go into overtraining mode, which really adds stress to the body.  And as some of you may know if you push the body too far, the stress response will also go too far.  This is NOT good for anyone but especially hypothyroids.  Take me for example.  My body does not respond well to constant short intense workouts.  Most trainers recommend this for fat loss but my system just rebels against it.  I feel down and sluggish, but worse of all I experience digestive dysfunction which affects my eating habits.  In addition stress can increase cortisol levels which come with another set of problems like problem sleeping, weight gain, digestive disturbance and memory problems.  Let’s go back to the weight gain because excess cortisol also encourages fat gain.  So really, if you are looking to lose weight on improve your stamina and energy, then overtraining can be counterproductive.  However, there are a couple of things we can do to counter these effects:

1.       Let’s change the mentality from weight loss to getting healthy.  It takes time for your body to adjust to being a hypothyroid and I promise you the weight will NOT come off easily, but eventually it will.  Embrace this concept in order to start making positive changes.  This is one condition in which you really have to listen to your body.   I personally had to learn to separate the benefits of exercising from the weight loss concept in my head.  I realized that exercising brought me a lot of emotional and mental strength so I used this as my motivator for exercising not losing the weight. 

2.      Reduce the frequency and type of exercise you do.  Until your thyroid levels get better you will be very fatigued and sluggish.  Can’t run 2 miles?  It’s ok.  How about taking the dog for a walk instead?  Maybe going to the gym for some light weight training or a zumba class?  And do we really have to be in the gym 7 days a week for 2 hours session?  I think not.  Now in my case, while my body does not respond to short intense workouts, it does response for example to slow long runs and weight training.  Remembering to listen to your body is key.  Treat it gently. 

3.      REST.  If you are in this blog then you understand the importance of resting.  If you are hypothyroid you really have to listen to your body and really take care of it.  Resting avoids injuries and let’s you determine whether those joints pains r fatigue you are experiencing are your typical soreness from exercising or whether maybe it’s time to adjust your medication. 

4.      Mixing it up.  Ok, remember what I wrote above about short intense workouts?  Yes, I do not respond well to a lot of it but once in a while I like to do a HITT workout.  I don’t do them often but I like to counterbalance a workout like this with maybe with a yoga class.  The key is moderation here.  

Now, if you are hypothyroid  (or not) I’d like to hear your experiences with different exercise programs – did your health improve or suffer after increasing the intensity of your training? Have you been able to find a balance between intensity and adequate recovery?

Linking with Fitness Friday


  1. SO true. Once I slowed down my training the weight finally started coming off. It's weird, I stopped exercising so much and started eating more and it was easier to lose weight.

  2. I'm actually planning on writing about over exercising and going beyond healthy to obsessive soon. Athletes tend to be type A personalities and often take things a bit too far! Thanks for the unique perspective about hypothyroidism. My husband has thyroid problems, so I'll have to share this with him.

  3. Interesting. I know I prefer longer, slow workouts which is why I'm working my way back up to at least 20 miles a week after recovering from my ankle sprain. It's like my body needs the first 3 miles to warm up though I don't feel like I'm warming up. When I do a 4 or 5 mile run, I'm much happier. I've had injury issues with speed training, too so I don't. I just stick to the longer runs and weights.

  4. I have been fortunate in that as long as my levels are where they're supposed to be I have never been limited by hypothyroidism. I train smart and I also think I found a diet/lifestyle that works for my body.

    You'll find what works :)

  5. I have hypothyroid and my levels change frequently when I am low I need to back down on intensity and run slower or easy spin instead. I feel more energized when I do get out so I still exercise. I also need to watch diet a lot more at these times to not fall into the carb trap.