GERD Awareness Week: Can Exercise Help Acid Reflux?
If you have acid reflux, you may be worried about exercise. You want to stay active to maintain a healthy weight, but can exercise itself trigger reflux? This GERD Awareness Week, we're looking at how exercise affects acid reflux and how you can modify your routine to meet your exercise needs while avoiding your triggers.
The Facts About GERD and Acid Reflux
Both gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, a chronic form of acid reflux) as well as infrequent acid reflux or indigestion are common, although influenced by diet and lifestyle:
- 20 percent of Americans suffer from GERD.
- Over 60 million Americans experience heartburn once a month.
- Over 15 million Americans experience heartburn every day.
- Westerners experience acid indigestion with greater frequency: 10-20% weekly versus 5% of Asian citizens.
How Does Acid Reflux Occur?
Reflux, the flow of stomach contents back into the esophagus, is due to a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring that keeps the top of your stomach closed. When the LES is weakened, compromised, or relaxes at the wrong moments, stomach acid can travel back upward and cause irritation and inflammation. This can lead to long-term damage to the esophagus and other complications.
If you have acid reflux frequently and it's interfering with your daily life, you may have GERD, and you may need to adjust your dietary habits and lifestyle to manage it.
How Does Exercise Impact Acid Reflux?
Exercise can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on your acid reflux, so if you have GERD or even occasional issues with reflux, consult with your doctor before beginning a new workout regimen.
- Weight loss: This is one of the first suggestions made by doctors in controlling GERD, and studies recommend it. Extra body weight can push against your stomach and put additional pressure on your LES.
Some aspects of exercise can trigger bouts of acid reflux, however. These include:
Eating before a workout. Click HERE for a list of foods you should and shouldn't eat with acid reflux.
- High-impact exercise: can trigger reflux for many reasons, including reducing blood flow to your gastrointestinal area, putting too much pressure on your stomach and chest, or relaxing your LES by gulping air.
How do I avoid acid reflux when exercising?
The best forms of exercise to pursue if you have persistent acid reflux or GERD are low-impact, moderate exercises. These can include:
- Light jogging.
- Mindfulness-based exercise: yoga and tai chi.
- Stationary machines: such as exercise bikes.
Exercises to avoid if you have issues with reflux can include:
- Running or sprinting.
- Weight lifting.
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT).
- Stomach crunches.
- Abdominal presses.
- Jumping rope.
Some other tips that will help you avoid acid reflux when exercising:
- Wait two hours: Don't exercise within two hours of eating.
- Avoid food triggers: Don't eat the food that causes reflux for you.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Stay hydrated: Water helps your digestion. Drink plenty during exercise!
- Take reflux medication: You may want to take over-the-counter reflux medication before exercise as a precaution.