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Exercise improves digestion, reduces stress, and lowers weight. All of which can help in reducing the frequency of heartburn. Some exercises, however, can trigger heartburn.
Heartburn during exercise is caused by stomach acid refluxing into and irritating the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a ring of muscle that closes at the base of the esophagus to prevent stomach acids from refluxing.
Certain foods can cause the LES to relax. These should be avoided before exercise.
Pressure on the abdomen can also cause acid to push through the LES. This pressure can be caused by weight, movements, and body position.
Certain exercises are more likely to cause pressure on the LES than others. Your doctor, personal trainer, or fitness instructor can help you develop an appropriate workout routine that will accommodate your health conditions and lower the risk of heartburn during exercise.
Heartburn Inducing Exercises to Avoid
Heartburn during exercise can be caused by strenuous exercises that cause labored breathing1 and those involving reclining, inversion, bending, squatting, lifting, or straining. These exercises increase pressure on your LES allowing acid to reflux.
- Rigorous cycling
- Lifting heavy free weights
- High-impact aerobics
- Jumping movements
- Climbing stairs or stair-stepping machine
Heartburn Friendly Exercises
Certain exercises are a problem if you suffer from chronic heartburn especially those that cause added pressure on the abdomen.
If you’re feeling susceptible to heartburn, save the more rigorous workouts for a time or day when you are having fewer heartburn signs. Instead, pick from exercises that will minimize the risk of heartburn.
Consider the following exercises that don’t tend to cause heartburn and remain as upright in position as possible when performing these exercises.
- Elliptical machine
- Stationary bike: Using a stationary bike will avoid bumps that would force stomach contents upward against the LES. Recumbent bikes are the better choice of exercise bikes allowing the rider to be in a position that places less pressure on the abdomen than on the typical bike where the rider leans forward toward the bike handles.
- Light weight lifting using a machine instead of free weights
- Walking outdoors or on a treadmill
- Light jogging
- Low-impact aerobics
14 Tips for Preventing Heartburn During Exercise
When you go to the gym, it’s great to feel the muscles burn, but heartburn is not the burn you want to feel. It’s unfortunate, exercise and heartburn go hand-in-hand for many people. Are you one of these people? I am.
Many exercise movements can cause acid reflux symptoms symptoms like heartburn. It’s important to know how to prevent acid reflux during exercise expecially for anyone who has chronic acid reflux, otherwise known as GERD.
The following 14 tips will help you exercise without heartburn.
1. Make sure you’re healthy enough for exercise
Heartburn and heart problems are hard to distinguish between. See your doctor and plan your exercise routine according to your health level.
2. Wait 2 to 3 hours after eating before exercising
Stomach contents are undesirable during exercise. Exercise reduces blood flow to the digestive tract, causing the stomach to produce more acid to digest any stomach contents. The contents can also cause pressure on the LES leading to acid reflux.
3. Don’t overeat before exercise
Overeating will also cause pressure on the LES during your workout.
4. Chew your food properly
Properly chewing will help food digest more readily and vacate the stomach before your workout.
5. Avoid heartburn trigger foods before workouts
6. Avoid pre-workout protein
High-protein meals, bars, and shakes have longer digestion times. Proteins should be reserved for post-workout when protein intake is most important for muscle repair and development.
7. Drink water during workout
Drinking water during your workout will not only hydrate you during your workout but will wash acids back down into the stomach if they have been refluxed into the esophagus. Water will also dilute stomach acid. But don’t drink too much water. This will cause the same pressures on the LES that foods can.
8. Dilute your sports drinks with water
If you drink sports drinks during your workout, consider diluting them by 50% or more. A high concentration of carbohydrates during your workout can contribute to heartburn. Many of these drinks are also acidic.
9. Understand your movements
Many exercises can cause added pressure on the LES leading to acid reflux. Bending over, crunches and bouncing movements are just a few of the actions that can cause pressure on the LES. If you are experiencing acid reflux during your workout, you should avoid these activities.
10. Avoid overly strenuous exercise
11. Avoid labored breathing during exercise
Studies have shown that “Exaggerated ventilatory effort” can lead to acid reflux.1
12. Wear loose-fitting clothes while exercising
Tight clothing can put unnecessary pressure on the LES.
13. Keep on exercising
Exercise can lower weight. Being overweight places added pressure on the LES. Exercise also lowers stress levels. Both of these benefits can lead to lower instances of heartburn.
14. Consider heartburn medication pretreatment if other options fail
If you consistently have heartburn while working out after following the above rules. You might consider taking an antacid or H2 blocker before working out.
Exercise is very important for your wellbeing and for the reduction of heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD. Stress, poor digestion, and being overweight are all factors that contribute to heartburn. Exercise will improve all three.
If you suffer from heartburn during exercise, pick from the list of exercises that can reduce your chances of heartburn. It’s important to continue working out. As you improve upon your physical condition, you will likely experience fewer heartburn symptoms.
Being able to exercise without heartburn is possible. Pay attention to your body and be good to your body. It’s the only one you have. If you follow the 14 tips for preventing heartburn during exercise, improve your diet, and reduce body fat to a healthy level, you will eliminate the majority of acid reflux causes that contribute to GERD.
1) Ayazi S, DeMeester SR, Hsieh CC, Zehetner J, Sharma G, Grant KS, Oh DS, Lipham JC, Hagen JA, & DeMeester TR. “Thoraco-abdominal pressure gradients during the phases of respiration contribute to gastroesophageal reflux disease.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Digestive Diseases and Sciences, June 2011.
2) Collings KL, Pierce Pratt F, Rodriguez-Stanley S, Bemben M, & Miner PB. “Esophageal reflux in conditioned runners, cyclists, and weightlifters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2003.
3) “Athletes at Greater Risk for Heartburn and GI Problems.” Newswise, American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), October 18, 1999.