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Nine Tips for Exercising with Acid Reflux

Sara Suchy Sep 27th, 2012 (updated Sep 27th, 2016)
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People who suffer from acid reflux disease or even occasional heartburn may experience worsened symptoms during physical activity. Here's what you should know about working out when you have acid reflux. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any kind of fitness regimen.

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Physical activity increases reflux
Physical activity increases reflux

Unfortunately, this is the plight of the reflux sufferer.  Many studies have confirmed that vigorous physical activity will stir up acid in the stomach and cause it to spill into the esophagus.  One study found three times more stomach acid in the esophagus of those who were exercising. This does not mean you shouldn't work out, but take precautions when you do.

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Chose your activities wisely
Chose your activities wisely

Several studies show that vigorous activities that are jarring to the body, such as jogging and contact sports, will result in more acid in the esophagus than lower-impact activities such as yoga, biking and swimming.

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A high BMI increases reflux symptoms
A high BMI increases reflux symptoms

A person's body mass index (BMI) is calculated using weight and height and is used to determine if a person is overweight, obese or of a normal weight.  A person with a high BMI usually runs a higher risk of developing acid reflux symptoms during a workout. People with a high BMI should start a physical exercise program to reduce their weight, but should begin with lower-intensity activities to lessen the risk of acid reflux symptoms.

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Avoid eating within three hours of exercise
Avoid eating within three hours of exercise

Acid reflux symptoms can be triggered by large meals, and vigorous exercise has been shown to increase acid production and leakage into the esophagus.  Therefore, it stands to reason that large meals (or even medium-sized meals) before exercise will most likely result in acid reflux. If you must eat before a workout, make it a small snack - like a granola bar or a piece of fruit rather than a full meal.

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Water is better than sports drinks
Water is better than sports drinks

By and large, drinking regular water during exercise is a much better option for people with reflux.  Studies found that athletes who consumed sports drinks during workouts had more episodes of acid reflux than those who drank water.  Water will naturally cleanse the esophagus and may even help relieve symptoms if they do arise.

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Find a treatment that works for you
Find a treatment that works for you

To avoid acid reflux during exercise, you must find a way to avoid acid reflux at rest.  Talk with your doctor about treatment options for your acid reflux and understand how to apply that treatment to your exercise regimen.  Be as detailed as possible about your exercise regimen and the severity of your reflux symptoms.

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Write it down
Write it down

A good way to develop a workout routine free from acid reflux is to take note (literally) of how different workouts and medications affect you. Record the activities that you do, any medications you take before, during, or after, and how you felt during the activity - especially if reflux symptoms present themselves. 

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Modify workouts
Modify workouts

Be prepared to adjust your workouts as reflux symptoms present themselves.  Even if you have been a life-long runner or skier, once reflux symptoms present themselves, adjustments must be made to protect your health.  Be prepared to work with your doctor to find an alternate way to work out.

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Find what works and stay with it
Find what works and stay with it

Once you've found a workout routine that provides the physical activity you need without aggravating your reflux symptoms, stay with it!  People with a high body mass index tend to experience worsened acid reflux symptoms, so staying fit will help keep reflux symptoms at bay.  Consistent physical activity is absolutely paramount to optimal health.