by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
You toil away on the Exercise Floor, snack on carrots, and skip the cola. Yet, you still gain weight. If this sounds familiar, you could have an underlying medical condition …
Despite best efforts, managing a healthy weight sometimes seems an impossibility. Avoid discouragement by investigating other causes. Remember, your weight is only part of a healthy lifestyle. Examine the whole to determine the particulars.
There are several medical-related conditions that affect weight gain and loss. One of the most common involves thyroid function. A small gland located in the lower neck area, the thyroid secretes hormones. If the thyroid is not functioning properly, weight, energy level, metabolism, and mood can be effected. The main types of conditions include: hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, goiter, thyroiditis, thyroid nodules, and thyroid cancer. The first two are the most common cause for weight disturbances.
Defined as an under-active thyroid, weight gain is one of the major associations with this condition. Hormones produced, or not produced, by the thyroid have a significant impact on overall health, including the body’s metabolism.
Hypothyroidism can be the result of an autoimmune disease, radiation therapy (specifically for head and neck cancers), thyroid surgery, medications, or treatment for hyperthyroidism. Pregnancy, iodine deficiency, or a pituitary disorder may sometimes trigger hypothyroidism. It may be genetic, with approximately one in 3,000 babies in the United States born with a defective thyroid gland or no thyroid gland at all.
Can You Blame the Thyroid?
If you’re pedaling fast and furious on that stationary bike and getting nowhere on the scale, is your thyroid the culprit?
Symptoms of hypothyroidism develop slowly and usually occur later in life when we may mistakenly attribute them to age. You may feel general fatigue and approach your day half-heartedly. As time progresses, the hormone deficiency becomes more severe. Signs of hypothyroidism may include:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Increased fatigue and sluggishness
- Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness, or swelling in your joints
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
Additionally, you may suffer from increased sensitivity to cold; constipation; pale, dry skin; a puffy face; hoarse voice; heavier menstrual periods; and brittle fingernails and hair, with excessive hair loss.
Hypothyroidism is more common in women, particularly ages 40 to 50, than men. It can also occur in children.
Simple blood tests are sensitive enough to show thyroid conditions even before symptoms are present. With an accurate diagnosis, your physician will usually prescribe hormone therapy that involves a synthetic thyroid hormone. Hormone levels should be monitored regularly and dosage adjusted accordingly. In only a week or two, energy will start to return.
Put Renewed Energy to Use
Once diagnosed with hypothyroidism and administered proper treatment, it’s time to shed those previously stubborn pounds. Your workouts can now become effective at obtaining a healthy weight. Additionally, exercise encourages hormone secretion from the thyroid gland. It helps raise tissue sensitivity toward the thyroid hormone. Along with desired weight loss, exercise will improve your thyroid condition.
Exercise programs for hypothyroidism should include both strength training and cardiovascular fitness, five days a week for 30-minute sessions. Suggested activities include cycling, walking, dancing, and rowing. Improve joints, the health of which is often compromised by hypothyroidism. Use weightlifting to strengthen muscle mass, which protects joints, ligaments, and tendons. Muscle also allows more efficient calorie burning, when in motion and parked in front of a computer or jammed in traffic.
Cardio work strengthens lungs and heart, which increases energy and helps lower cholesterol. An invigorating workout improves mood by increasing various hormones like endorphins, beyond assisting the thyroid’s release. Join a Group Fitness class for a supportive environment and gain a twofer in the feel-good area.
Reach your prime weight while combating issues common to hypothyroidism.
Defined as an over-active thyroid, weight loss is a common symptom of this condition. Although some prefer this over the opposite extreme, it can be unhealthy. It also presents with symptoms like rapid heartbeat, irritability, excessive sweating, and nervousness. What good is a thin build when you’re a shaking, perspiring wreck underneath?
Hyperthyroidism mimics other health issues so a thorough exam and blood tests are usually necessary for an accurate diagnosis. Calorie burning is not the goal of a successful workout for this population. However, building muscle and tone remain important as well as the cardio benefits of exercise. A good workout increases energy level and improves bouts of insomnia (otherwise, a vicious circle), common to those with hyperthyroidism. It also provides an outlet for pent-up anxiety.
If you struggle to gain weight without a medical cause, see “The Skinny on Weight Gain” (www.fitnessandwellnessnews.com, November 23, 2011). Learn how to safely increase your weight while remaining healthy. Cheeseburgers aren’t the answer.
In addition to medical treatment, your physician may suggest speaking with a nutritionist. Extra calories and protein might be needed to increase your weight. As your condition improves, follow a consistent exercise regimen to avoid a backlash of excessive weight gain. Sodium and calcium intake, in particular, should be monitored carefully for those with hyperthyroidism.
Cushing’s Syndrome (Hypercortisolism)
Weight gain in specific areas– face, between shoulder blades, and abdomen— is characteristic of this condition. The adrenal glands in those with Cushing’s syndrome, located atop each kidney, produce too much cortisol, a steroid hormone. Hence, its alternate name: hypercortisolism. The weight gain is sometimes seen in fat-like deposits at specific sites.
If stubborn belly fat is accompanied by a puffy (moon) face and humped upper back, this signals need for attention. Pink or purple stretch marks may cover skin of abdomen, breasts, thighs, and arms. Fatigue, muscle weakness, and emotional distress are also common symptoms. Left untreated, this condition may lead to high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
Cushing’s syndrome mimics several other health issues. A thorough diagnosis is necessary, which often includes blood, saliva, and urine testing. Scans, such as an MRI or CT, might be performed to view the pituitary and adrenal glands.
This condition may result from high doses of steroid use over an extended period. Steroid medications are sometimes used to treat asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. They also may be administered to prepare the body for an organ transplant. Injected corticosteroids, such as those used to treat pain, also can contribute to an excess of cortisol in the body. Unless in high doses, steroidal creams and inhalalers do not usually contribute to Cushing’s syndrome.
Treatment depends on the cause and severity of this condition. It may include gradually, carefully reducing medications that cause the excess cortisol under close physician guidance. Or, it may involve surgery.
Slow but Steady to Your Old Self
As the slow process of recovery begins, a slow increase of activity and exercise is recommended. Although anxious to shed excess weight that was previously problematic and stubborn, it’s wise to be persistent yet gentle. Muscle and joint pain often accompany recovery from Cushing’s Syndrome.
Focus on low-impact exercises. A personal trainer or Group Fitness instructor can suggest a gentle aquatics program or class for you. As you rebuild strength and energy, you can graduate to more intense workouts– in the pool and on the Exercise Floor. Soak in the Center’s spa pool to loosen muscles and soothe. Use the sauna room to warm up stiff joints. Treat yourself to a regular therapeutic massage.
Focus on nutrition to help lose pounds gained from this condition. A diet high in calcium and vitamin D combined can help strengthen bones weakened by Cushing’s syndrome.
When suffering from depression, some self-soothe with food. Emotional eating is a major cause of weight gain and obesity. If you’re struggling to manage moods, even the simple stresses of daily life, it might contribute to your expanding waistline. Weight gained as a result of negative emotions is proven to most directly affect the abdomen area. Another reason it’s called your “gut.” A thick middle is also one of the most dangerous areas to store excess fat.
Replace emotionally induced eating with an enjoyable activity. Exercise for relief. Burn calories for improved mood rather than consume them.
Clinical depression is real, as are its effects. It results from a chemical imbalance. It cannot always be exercised away. Although recent studies have proven the effectiveness of exercise in treating depression, additional guidance from a therapist and physician are often needed.
Studies report exercise provides an immediate boost, as well as long-term relief, for those suffering from depression and anxiety. Perhaps counseling or medication can motivate you to slowly increase activity. Combined with a healthier diet, excessive weight from depression can be shed quickly.
For more on how to treat depression — and shed its subsequent weight gain– with exercise, see “Exercise & Lift the Weight of Depression” (www.fitnessandwellnessnews, October 1, 2010).
Many find comfort in blaming maintenance medication on weight gain. Everything from random allergy tablets to herbal remedies have been spouted as an excuse for excessive weight. Before allowing yourself such reasoning, check with your physician or pharmacist. The most notable medications that may cause weight gain include steroids and medication for high blood pressure, seizures, and depression.
Investigate the Whole
When counting calories burned and consumed, reps, and miles run, think outside the Exercise Floor and beyond the kitchen. Investigate the possibility of medical reasons for unwanted weight. Then, soar with your findings. Take your workout success from 0 to 60 in record time with proper diagnosis and treatment.
Importance of Exercise with Thyroid Disease,” by Marnie Kunz at www.livestrong.com.
Scale with error (introductory photo): http://www.flickr.com/photos/-paulh/4517197776/
Multi-generation workout: www.monkeybusinessimages at www.dreamstime.com.