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Acid reflux and exercise

Acid reflux and exercise

Do you suffer from acid reflux when you exercise? In this post I’ll discuss what you can do to reduce or even stop this annoying situation.

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux is where the contents of your stomach rise up into the esophagus. When acid reflux get’s more severe it can then turn into GERD (Gastro esophageal reflux disease). GERD can be caused by a weak esophageal sphincter and can lead to acid damage to the lining of the esophagus and can even cause damage to the throat and lungs if the acid reaches higher up. Most people will experience acid reflux as heartburn, as the stomach acid rises up creating a burning sensation in the chest area (however, note that it does not affect the heart as the name suggests).

What are the symptoms of acid reflux?

  • A taste of acid in the mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing difficulty/wheezing
  • Heartburn sensation
  • Chest pain
  • Bad breath
  • Gas
  • Tooth decay

What are the possible causes of acid reflux?

It occurs due to the lower esophageal sphincter not closing properly, allowing stomach acid to rise up into the esophagus and beyond.

The following can either cause or make the situation worse:

  • A hernia
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Various diseases, including autoimmune diseases
  • Having too much calcium in the blood
  • Being pregnant
  • Smoking
  • Lying down too soon after eating
  • Being on some types of medication
  • Poor eating habits/lifestyle (more on this below)
  • Taking part in certain types of exercise/sport (more on this below)

What are the risks of having acid reflux?

Apart from the unpleasant symptoms, too much stomach acid (hyperacidity) can lead to weight gain due to your digestive system and PH levels being out of balance and combined with the inability to remove toxins from the body can lead to your body producing more fat cells. On top of this many people find temporary relief by having something to eat. Of course this leads to over eating and even more weight gain.

Of more concern is that acid reflux/GERD could lead to inflammation and damage of the esophageal, including cancer formation. You could also end up with Asthma, throat tumors and numerous other related health issues.

Exercise and acid reflux

For some people doing intense physical exercise can cause acid reflux/GERD. There can be a reduction of blood to the digestive system that makes the stomach produce more acid to help breakdown food for energy. There can be extra pressure on the stomach when performing certain types of exercises that have you bent over or acid can leak out when you lay down if you have a weak esophagus sphincter. Plus heavy breathing and expanding lungs can create extra pressure on the stomach and push more acid up.

While for others exercise actually helps reduce the occurrence of this annoying situation. Those that are overweight/obese tend to benefit from exercise due to weight loss.

Those that get GERD during exercise normally have extra pressure on the stomach, which can also cause a hiatal hernia (an opening in the diaphragm).

What treatment is there for acid reflux?

To properly diagnose acid reflux, it is best to consult your doctor as there are many reasons for acid reflux and depending on what the cause is will determine the course of action.

The following are general treatments that can help:

  • Surgery such as laparoscopic fundoplication
  • Weight loss, as this will allow the esophagus to close due to less pressure being placed on it and the stomach in general
  • Cutting out sugary food, coffee, tea, vinegar, alcohol, spicy food, fatty food, fizzy drinks, citrus fruit, tomatoes, mint, chocolate and processed food
  • Eat more fibre
  • Eat foods with more alkaline/alkaline promoting abilities, such as non acidic fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, lentils and beans
  • Stay hydrated
  • Reduce stress
  • Eat smaller portions at each sitting
  • Eat slowly
  • Don’t eat too late at night or before bed
  • Sit up more and raise the upper body when laying down
  • Practice good posture
  • Use moderate exercise
  • Stop smoking
  • Take medication to control acid reflux

For those that suffer from acid reflux while exercising the following can help to reduce or even stop it from happening while exercising:

  • Don’t eat too close before your workout. Workout at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours after eating to allow any food to be digested
  • Take notes of food eaten to see if any could be a trigger for your symptoms and eat less of the foods mentioned above that can cause acid reflux
  • Eat more slowly. Too much air going down with your food won’t help
  • Don’t drink sports energy drinks as the extra sugar can worsen the symptoms
  • Stay hydrated, but don’t gulp your drink down, sip it regularly and take your time
  • Wear loose gym wear
  • Don’t gulp in air when exercising. Try to control your breathing
  • Don’t do exercises that cause you to jump around too much. Those can include high impact exercises and sports, such as gymnastics, skipping, running/sprinting, high impact aerobics, high intensity body weight exercises, heavy lifting. Instead try swimming, brisk walking, gentle jogging, stationery bike, slow dancing or lighter weight training (with appropriate exercises). Stay upright as much as possible and do exercises that allow you to be mostly in the upright position and/or find alternative exercises for those that would require you to lay down
  • Don’t lay down for at least 2-3 hours after your workout
  • Take appropriate medication

Finding your triggers to acid reflux/GERD can be a bit hit and miss. You will have to take notes on a long term basis to find what you are eating, doing and what exercises cause the symptoms. Also to make it even more difficult some people will suffer the symptoms intermittently despite what they eat or do making it even more difficult to pin point the cause/causes.

Finally don’t ignore any of the symptoms associated with acid reflux, get checked out and be aware that some of those symptoms could also be related to other health risks/issues.