I think most of us start the New Year with plans to add exercise to our routine. After a holiday season full of eating delicious, high calorie foods and maybe placing exercise lower and lower on the long “To Do” list it can be hard to get started. When you have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, exercise can worsen reflux symptoms making exercise even less appealing.
I often get asked if there is a best exercise if you have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD. This is a difficult question to answer. Certainly there are many professional athletes and Olympians who have overcome GERD to perform well in their given sport. For example, U.S. Olympic swimmer Laura Wilkinson, professional football player Bo Jackson and many others pursued their sports while managing GERD.
But what if you are not a professional athlete with a trainer and a contract? First, it is important to consult your doctor to make sure it is safe to exercise. If you are a smoker or significantly overweight, it is especially important to work with your doctor before getting started.
Make a Plan
I think it is important to exercise with someone else who has similar goals. Maybe you need to set up a schedule. For instance, you can meet a friend or co worker for a walk at lunch or on the weekend. Or you could join a gym or take a yoga class with a friend so you can encourage each other to keep going and stay focused on your goal. It is a good idea to keep a journal or mark your calendar to keep track of your schedule and monitor your progress.
Deciding on a Sport
If you have GERD, you might have tried a sport or two and found that it increased your symptoms and even caused you to stop. Researchers have addressed this issue too. Certainly those with GERD do not need a study to prove that bending from sitting or from lying down can increase reflux symptoms but a study did confirm this.
So if sit ups and knee bends are out, what else is there? Another study looked at the effect of running, cycling and weight lifting on reflux symptoms. Not surprisingly, weight lifters had more significant symptoms than the runners and cyclists. In another study, healthy volunteers (those without reflux) were observed taking part in three different common exercise routines: running, using a stationary bike and doing a weight routine. The athletes in the running group had the most reflux symptoms and the athletes in the stationary bike group had the fewest symptoms, possibly due to the decreased overall body movement (up and down motion, bending).
It makes sense to start slow and steady when beginning a new exercise program. The local athletic club, department of recreation or club may offer a low cost or free class to get you started. You will receive important tips on how to warm up, avoid injury and move correctly. Low cost or free exercise may include: walking on a trail or track, in the mall or through your neighborhood. Low stress sports include: swimming and biking. Maybe you will need to skip the weight lifting and marathon running for now.