Acid reflux is never a welcome visitor. When you’re in the middle of an intense workout, you especially don’t want the added pain of heartburn thrown into the mix.
However, if you’re a regular sufferer of the condition, you know all too well that workouts are prime time for GERD flare-ups.
You also likely know that in a cruel twist of fate, exercise is essential in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and treating the disease. So does exercise make acid reflux worse?
We’re breaking down the real connection between exercise and acid reflux to help you have a pain-free workout.
OK, but what is GERD?
First off, it’s important to understand exactly what it is that’s causing your pain during workouts. Although acid reflux is often used interchangeably with another very closely related condition—gastroesophageal reflux disease (aka GERD)—they’re slightly different.
The Mayo Clinic explains acid reflux as the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn and a potential sour taste in the mouth.
GERD, a more severe case of acid reflux (this has been shown to help), can still result in heartburn and a sour taste. But it can also cause difficulty swallowing, coughing, wheezing, and chest pain.
Both conditions are treatable. However, unfortunately, both are also big culprits of heartburn and general discomfort.
Does exercise really make it worse?
The short answer is, yes. But, don’t toss in the towel quite yet! There’s a science to it.
“As unfair as it may seem, exercise in a small percent of people can cause GERD,” explains Niket Sonpal MD, assistant clinical professor at Touro College of Medicine.
He explains that the underlying problem is a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the cause of GERD.
“Exercise can trigger heartburn if the LES muscle is weak or too relaxed. Food or stomach acid ‘sloshes’ back up from your stomach into your esophagus,” he says.
This is yet another reason why you shouldn’t exercise just after eating, he adds. “This is from all the mechanical movement.”
In addition, a 2006 study published in Sports Medicine suggests that acid reflux may increase in athletes during workouts due to “decreased gastrointestinal blood flow, alterations of hormone secretion, changes in the motor function of the esophagus and the ventricle, and the constrained body position during exercise.”
Alas, the mechanics of the body working out are to blame.
Should you skip your workout?
GERD or acid reflux sufferers might have a bit of a“mechanics issue” with keeping stomach acid in place.
However, that absolutely doesn’t mean that you should skip your workout if you fall into this camp.
In fact, a 2013 study suggested that because there’s actually a link between GERD and obesity, a proper weight loss plan can potentially resolve GERD symptoms.
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Dr. Sonpal agrees that acid reflux sufferers shouldn’t forego working out. Rather, they should visit a doctor for suggested medical and lifestyle changes.
“In fact, [of] all the lifestyle changes for GERD (sufferers), weight loss makes the biggest impact,” he says.
What can you do to treat it?
Well, a couple things. If you’re truly suffering from acid reflux (this has been proven to help) or GERD and not just paying for that lunchtime burrito, think about the type of activity that you’re doing.
Although there’s no specific rules or limitations to the type of exercise GERD sufferers should try, Dr. Sonpal suggests avoiding anything that forces you to be upside down.
“For example, maybe avoid downward facing dog in yoga, so [as] not to push acid through what could be a weakened LES!” he says.
And, if you’re really prone to acid reflux, keep the jumping around (burpees, jumping jacks, bear crawls—you get the picture!) during your workout to a minimum.
Just keep in mind that general aerobic exercise helps with weight loss, which in the long term will reduce GERD symptoms, explains Dr. Sonpal.
Next, as with any workout, don’t forget to stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise.
“I would avoid carbonated beverages for hydration as they reduce your overall water intake. They make your stomach feel fuller because of air instead of water,” Dr. Sonpal explains.
“Secondly never eat anything heavy before a major workout. Full stomachs are full of acid, and that means a chance for reflux!”
Lastly, if you’re still suffering from heartburn, be sure to see your doctor to talk about medication.
There are a number of medicines that GERD and acid reflux sufferers can take first thing after waking—on an empty stomach—to treat symptoms and help you tackle both your day and your workout.
Your doctor will know what’s best for you!
Aaptiv’s has workouts that you can do that won’t make your GERD worse. Check out the classes we offer in app today.