Is Exercise Bad for Acid Reflux?

Is Exercise Bad for Acid Reflux?
Is Exercise Bad for Acid Reflux?

Is Exercise Bad for Acid Reflux? If you are one of the millions of women managing acid reflux symptoms on a weekly basis, don’t miss this essential guide to understanding how exercise can impact your discomfort.

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux disease, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is the result of stomach acid frequently backing up into the esophagus due to a weak or abnormal lower esophageal sphincter. The more acid that flows back up through the esophagus, the more irritated the esophageal lining becomes leading to uncomfortable symptoms like chest pain, heartburn, difficulty swallowing, the feeling of having a lump in your throat, as well as regurgitation of sour liquid or food.

Acid reflux experienced at night can also contribute to laryngitis, chronic cough, asthma flare-ups, and poor sleep. You are at higher risk for acid reflux activity if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have developed a hiatal hernia
  • Are Obese
  • Have delayed stomach emptying
  • Develop connective tissue disorders (i.e. scleroderma)

Acid reflux activity can also be triggered by lifestyle behaviors such as eating fried, fatty, or spicy foods, smoking, eating a large meal late at night, drinking alcohol and coffee, and taking medicines like aspirin or NSAIDs which are linked to stomach issues.

How Does Exercise Affect Acid Reflux?

In the most obvious way, exercise plays an important role in helping you maintain a healthy weight which can in turn help stave off acid reflux symptoms. When you carry extra weight around, especially around the midsection, it places added pressure on your abdomen and therefore your stomach, pushing acid up in the wrong direction.

In combination with physical exercise, acid reflux-friendly eating habits can prevent flare-ups; these include:

  • Avoiding trigger foods like spices, citrus fruits, tomatoes, fatty and fried foods, mint, and chocolate
  • Making sure not to eat 2 to 3 hours before bedtime
  • Avoiding lying down right after a meal
  • Chewing food thoroughly before swallowing

Not all exercise is created equal when it comes to acid reflux, however. There is some research that has shown high-intensity exercises like running, jumping rope, gymnastics, and weightlifting and activities which require extended bending or hanging upside down can make your body more susceptible to acid reflux. Exercises with restrictive body positions that place pressure on your chest or abdomen, as well as though that force gastric juices to pool in your stomach, or which induce rapid, deep breathing that relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter can all lead to a backflow of acid up into your esophagus. In addition to the aforementioned activities, cycling, sprinting, stair climbing, and HIIT make the list.

Low-impact physical activities may be a better option if you suffer from GERD. Think stationary cycling, taking a brisk walk, hiking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, or dancing. Always speak with your doctor about any acid reflux symptoms you have and what exercises may be more appropriate for you.

Additional Considerations

In addition to irregular dietary habits, poor sleep quality was measured as a leading risk factor for GERD symptoms in a 2012 study published in BMC Medicine. A bad night’s sleep can also make you less likely to exercise the following day, indirectly contributing to weight gain that exacerbates acid reflux.

Sleep better with a wedge pillow for acid reflux, or raise the head of your bed 6 to 9 inches with wooden or cement blocks (bed risers). The increased angle of your upper body will help keep stomach acid from accidentally making its way up your esophagus.

Your doctor may also recommend pharmacological solutions that complement your exercise, sleep, and diet changes to address acid reflux issues; these include antacids, H-2 receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors.





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Is Exercise Bad for Acid Reflux?

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