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The Relationship Between Acid Reflux and Exertion

written by: Debbie Roome • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 3/30/2011

Acid reflux is the abnormal reflux of the gastric contents into the esophagus. It is commonly referred to as heartburn. Can exertion and exercise have an effect on acid reflux?

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    What is Acid Reflux

    Acid reflux is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world. It occurs when the sphincter or circular band of muscle between the stomach and esophagus weakens and allows food and acid to leak back into the esophagus. This causes a burning sensation that rises through the chest and can also result in pain, nausea, belching and bloating. Acid reflux may cause inflammation of the esophagus which is called esophagitis. Ongoing problems with acid reflux are referred to as gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD).

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    The Relationship between Acid Reflux and Exertion

    Studies have proved that strenuous exercise and exertion can bring on acid reflux. The effect is not noticeable with moderate exercise. It would seem that running, cycling, surfing and weight lifting can bring on acid reflux in people. Of these, vigorous resistance exercise and running have the most adverse effects. Exerting oneself while lying prone tends to worsen acid reflux. Conversely, mild to moderate exertion can actually protect against heartburn.

    There is disagreement over why exertion can bring on acid reflux but experts suggest it may be due to hormonal changes, decreased gastrointestinal blood flow, changes in the motor function of the esophagus and constrained body position during exercise.

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    How to Exercise when Suffering from Acid Reflux

    Different types of exertion produce different levels of acid reflux. Cycling does not produce much agitation of the body and produces less heartburn than weight lifting or running. Running or aerobic exercise that produces a high level of body agitation has the greatest chance of inducing gastric reflux.

    Medical opinion suggests that mild routine physical activity along with a low-fat diet rich in fiber is the best option for people with acid reflux. Obesity is a high-risk factor for acid reflux so regular exercise leading to weight loss can actually reduce the severity of the condition.

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    When does Exertion Lead to Acid Reflux

    To reduce the chance of exercise causing acid reflux it is best to avoid exertion directly after eating. Allow two to three hours between eating and drinking and partaking in sport or bending and lifting heavy objects. It is also recommended that water be drunk instead of high-carbohydrate sports drinks. Fatty foods such as those containing creamy sauces, cheese and pastry can worsen acid reflux as can fried foods, alcohol, chocolate, coffee, citrus fruits and tomatoes.

    Studies have proved that certain types of vigorous exertion can bring on and worsen acid reflux. On the other hand, mild to moderate exercise can protect against the condition and even reduce it. People with GERD should choose exercise routines that cause the least agitation to the body and are carried out in an upright position. Exertion along with a low-fat, high-fiber diet can reduce obesity and bring about an improvement in acid reflux.

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    References

    Patient Uk - Acid Reflux and Oesophagitis

    The New York Times - Health

    World Journal of Gastroenterology - Reflux disease

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