Can Exercise Help My Acid Reflux?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Exercise and acid reflux

Acid reflux refers to the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. When this happens, you may taste sour liquid in the back of your mouth. This backwash can irritate the lining of your esophagus and cause heartburn.

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If you experience acid reflux infrequently, you likely won’t need to make any drastic lifestyle changes to relieve your symptoms. Taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications may be enough to soothe any discomfort.

If your symptoms are interfering with your daily life, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). You may need to make several lifestyle changes, as well as medication, to ease your symptoms. This may mean changing your workout routine.

Depending on your workout regimen, exercise can either help or hurt your acid reflux. It all depends on the type of exercise that you’re doing and how you take care of your body before and after your workout.

What can exercise do for acid reflux?

Maintaining a healthy weight is a good way to reduce or relieve acid reflux symptoms. If you’re carrying extra body weight, it can push against your stomach and affect your lower esophageal sphincter. This can make the symptoms of acid reflux worse.

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According to a 2013 study, weight loss is often the first line of defense against acid reflux. You should exercise and also follow an acid reflux-friendly diet.

A healthy diet and exercise can relieve your symptoms and reduce the likelihood of any GERD-related complications. This approach can improve your overall health and increase your quality of life.

Risks and warnings

When it comes to acid reflux, exercise may be a double-edged sword. According to a 2006 study, intense exercise may make GERD worse.

Certain exercises can decrease blood flow to your gastrointestinal area. This can cause gastric fluids to pool, leading to inflammation and irritation. Restrictive body positions can also put pressure on your stomach and chest, which may trigger symptoms.

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These movements include hanging upside down and bending for extended periods.

Gulping air during high-impact exercise may also relax the lower esophageal sphincter. This can force acid into the esophagus.

High-impact exercises that may cause heartburn include:

  • running
  • sprinting
  • weightlifting
  • gymnastics
  • cycling
  • jumping rope
  • stair-climbing

Eating before a workout can also increase your risk of exercise-induced acid reflux. Some foods that may produce heartburn include:

  • tomatoes and tomato-based foods
  • citrus
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • fried foods
  • fatty foods
  • alcohol
  • mint
  • sodas
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If you know you’ll be exercising, you should avoid eating foods that trigger your symptoms for two or three hours before your workout.

Treatment options for acid reflux

Losing weight is a priority if the extra weight is causing your acid reflux. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist to come up with a healthy eating and exercise plan that won’t make your symptoms worse.

You can also reduce or relieve your symptoms by:

  • eating smaller meals
  • not lying down after eating
  • quitting smoking if you smoke
  • raising the head of your bed

Your doctor may also recommend OTC or prescription medications. This includes:

  • antacids to neutralize stomach acid
  • H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors to decrease acid production in your stomach
  • prokinetics or antibiotics to help your stomach empty faster
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You should speak with your doctor if lifestyle changes or medications aren’t relieving your symptoms of acid reflux. You should also contact your doctor immediately if you have:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • black or bloody stool
  • severe or persistent abdominal pain
  • unexplained weight loss that isn’t due to exercise

What you can do now

Exercise may help prevent or relieve the symptoms of acid reflux by helping you lose weight and supporting good digestion. However, some types of exercise may make your symptoms worse. Your best options may be low-impact exercises that keep you as upright as possible.

Low-impact options include:

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