Does Exercise Trigger Heartburn?

By

Chris Iliades, MD

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Exercise, in general, is good for digestion and can help reduce factors that can cause heartburn. Stress is a big contributor to heartburn, and exercise reduces stress. Exercise also helps you control your weight. That's important because obesity can lead to heartburn. But, not all types of exercise are appropriate when you have heartburn. Some exercises may even trigger heartburn.

Heartburn occurs when stomach acids from your stomach creep up into your esophagus—the long tube that gets food and drink from your mouth to your stomach. Anything that pushes gastric juices back up into your esophagus can cause heartburn. That includes some types of exercise. Any exercise that increases pressure in your stomach can lead to heartburn.

Exercises to Avoid for Heartburn

Rule number one is to not exercise at all right after a meal. Exercising on a full stomach is a sure way for acids to get through the LES gate. Wait 1 to 2 hours after a small meal before you work out. Wait 3 to 4 hours after a large meal.

Rule number two is know which exercises are likely to trigger heartburn. Any strenuous exercise that makes you gulp air, and involves a lot of lifting, bending, squatting or straining increases pressure in your stomach and can bring on heartburn.

So, beware of:

  • Running

  • Competitive cycling

  • Heavy weight lifting

  • Gymnastics

  • Sit-ups

  • High-impact aerobics

  • Jumping rope

  • Using a stair stepping machine

How to Exercise Heartburn-Free

Heartburn or not, everyone should try to get about 30 minutes of exercise every day. You can break it up into 10- or 15-minute sessions, but you need to get up and get moving. Consider these choices that don't tend to cause heartburn:

  • Walking outdoors or on a treadmill

  • Light jogging

  • Swimming

  • Low-impact aerobics

  • Riding a stationary bike

  • Yoga

  • Light weight lifting

You can take other steps to keep heartburn out of your exercise time.

  • Drink clear fluids before you start working out to help get stomach contents moving through your digestive system.

  • Avoid energy drinks that are loaded with sugars; these can slow down digestion.

  • Don't eat foods that contain a lot of protein or fat at least one hour before you exercise. They take the longest to digest.

If you've been away from exercise for a while, start slowly. And, if you have heartburn two or more times a week, ask your doctor what exercise would be best for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Some exercise can be good for keeping heartburn at bay. Think low-impact exercise done at a moderate pace.

  • Exercises that increase pressure in your stomach can trigger heartburn. Be wary of activities like high-impact aerobics and heavy weight lifting.

  • Don't exercise for a few hours after eating, especially if you've had a large meal. And drink plenty of water.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: May 28, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Heartburn – overview, NYU Langone Medical Center, Accessed May 4, 2014 (http://medicine.med.nyu.edu/gastro/conditions-we-treat/conditions/heartburn%E2%80%94overview);
  2.  How do I avoid indigestion during a competitive endurance race, American Council on Exercise, Accessed May 4, 2014 (http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy-living-article/60/1601/how-do-i-avoid-gi-upset-during-a-com...;
  3.  How to Avoid GERD Symptoms While Working Out, Gastrointestinal Society Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, Accessed May 4, 2014 (http://www.badgut.org/information-centre/how-to-avoid-gerd-symptoms-while-working-out-1.html);
  4. An Integrative Approach to GERD, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Accessed May 4, 2014 (http://www.fammed.wisc.edu/sites/default/files/webfm-uploads/documents/outreach/im/module_gerd_patie...;
  5.  Exercise and Eating, Naval Medical Center San Diego, Accessed May 4, 2014 (http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nmcsd/Patients/Pages/ExerciseAndEating.aspx);

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