Acid Reflux and Exercise

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

Several of you have written to the HealthCentral Network, inquiring if acid reflux should prevent you from doing physical exercise. One individual who wrote in was especially concerned because he is enlisted as a Marine, and his job requires frequent physical activity. For those of you wondering about the relationship between acid reflux and exercise, here are some of the findings from the latest research:

  1. Physical exercise increases gastroesophageal reflux. In a recent study, the researchers examined individuals who were both exercising and who were inactive. They found that there was three times the acid in the esophagus of those who were exercising, as compared to those who were at rest.

  2. The type of physical exercise matters. For example, in one study, reflux lasted longer when an individual was running versus cycling. In another study, researchers looked at reflux while individuals were running, weight lifting and cycling. Again, they found the more vigorous exercise (running) induced the most reflux, and the more stationary exercise (cycling) produced the least reflux.

  3. Your BMI can make a difference. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person's weight and height, and is often used to determine whether a person is overweight or not. In one study, researchers looked at which was a greater predictor of reflux: diet, exercise, or a person's BMI. They found that a person's BMI was the greatest predictor of reflux, as compared to diet and exercise.

  4. Exercising within three hours of a meal may not be a good idea. Researchers wanted to uncover the patterns of acid reflux over a 24 hour period. They monitored their subjects while they were resting, sleeping, eating, and exercising. They found the most reflux episodes (66 percent of them) occurred three hours after food intake, whether someone was exercising or not.

  5. Choose water over sports drinks. If you have acid reflux, it is better to drink water during exercise, as compared to a supplemental sports drink. In order to determine whether supplemental sports drinks created more reflux in athletes, seven male triathletes were studied while they were running and cycling. They were given either a conventional sports drink or tap water. They found that the reflux lasted longer when the athletes were cycling versus running, and that the reflux lasted longer when the athletes were drinking the supplemental sports drinks versus water.

While we are just now beginning to understand the relationship between acid reflux and exercise, we have known for a long time the overall mental and physical benefits of being as active as possible. The research to date shows that exercise can worsen acid reflux symptoms. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that you need to stop exercising. This research just demonstrates that the type of exercise you perform may make a difference on your acid reflux symptoms, three hours after a meal may not be a good time to exercise if you have acid reflux, and water may be the best way to hydrate while you are working out.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.