In this article we'll look at the relationship between heartburn and exercise. Can the two be linked?
How heartburn starts
Heartburn is the hot burning pain you might feel in your chest area, if stomach acid comes up into your oesophagus (food pipe). The sensitive lining of the oesophagus isn't designed to withstand the effect of too much acid, hence why it may feel so uncomfortable. You might also experience a tight feeling in this area and have an acidic taste in your mouth. The taste could even cause you to feel sick.
Some reasons why heartburn occurs include:
- Food types - such as fatty and spicy foods
- Eating habits - eating big meals, irregular meals or eating ‘on the go’
- Drinks - caffeinated drinks and alcohol, for example
- Being a little overweight
- Wearing tight clothes
Heartburn may also occur from having a weakened lower oesophageal sphincter (LES). This is the ring of muscle at the base of your oesophagus - it is designed to open to allow food in, and then close to keep the stomach contents (including stomach acid) in place.
It is also worth bearing in mind, heartburn can also occur because of a combination of the above causes.
If you get heartburn when you exercise, it could be that you are exercising too soon after a meal, or perhaps you have eaten spicy food beforehand. However, it might be due to the type of exercise you're doing, so let's have a look at this possibility.
How different exercises may cause heartburn
You may feel that bending or curling exercises bring on your heartburn. This could be because the positions you adopt when taking this kind of exercise could actually help acid move up into the oesophagus more easily that may cause acid reflux during exercise
Some exercises which are associated with this are rowing machines, cross trainers, exercise bikes and weights in gyms. You may find that running, jumping or any form of exercises that jolt your body can start your heartburn too. Lying on your front or back and doing weight curls with arms, legs or your whole body can all put pressure on your stomach.
Perhaps you're exercising in order to lose some weight. If so, it could be that the extra weight around your middle is putting more pressure on your stomach (especially when exercising) and again pushing acid upwards where it's not wanted. If so, it might feel like you're in a vicious circle, and should your LES be a little weak, this situation can be exacerbated.
How you can prevent heartburn during exercise?
If you feel heartburn whilst doing certain exercises, it's best to stop. Exposure to too much acid, frequently or over long periods, can cause damage to the oesophagus and may cause hyperacidity. So, just as soon as you feel even the slightest of heartburn symptoms - stop what you're doing.
Stand upright - don't just sit up. This can help stop any more acid from coming up into your oesophagus. The physical position of standing helps stomach acid to stay down in the stomach. Doing this may help the heartburn feeling pass quickly in cases when only a tiny amount of acid has come up into your oesophagus.
To prevent it from happening again, it's best not to return to that exercise straight away - or maybe not at all if you've experienced heartburn whilst doing this on previous occasions. Try drinking a little water and resting for a few moments before doing any more exercises. Give your stomach a chance to settle. Then, when you return to exercising, choose something that may be less likely to bring on heartburn.
Before exercising, make sure you eat at least two hours in advance as if you have a full stomach, it will put more pressure on your sphincter – and ensure you aren’t eating heartburn inducing foods (for example, spicy or fatty foods, chocolate and citrus drinks).
Why exercise can help with heartburn in the long term
Try not to give up on exercising completely - particularly if you're aiming to lose some weight. Exercise can not only contribute to weight loss, but it can also psychologically satisfying.
Low impact exercises, such as a spinning machine or fast walking on a treadmill may help soothe your heartburn, as well as deep breathing exercises.
Tips to exercising or readjusting your regime - with heartburn prevention in mind
- Try not to eat too closely to the time when you plan to exercise - leave at least two hours between when you eat and when you exercise.
- Aim to eat foods that are easily digested and less likely to trigger heartburn (for example, pasta-based meals).
- Aim for your meal to be a modest sized portion, so your stomach isn't too full.
Reconsider what type of exercise you've been doing and readjust your routine accordingly. Maybe choose something new. It might include the following:
- Walking: You don't have to go to a gym to do this. You can walk slowly for a long distance or more quickly for shorter distances - or even vary the two. If you are in the gym, try walking on the running machine rather than running quickly, so that the risk of jarring your body is lower.
- Cycling: Again, this can take place outside, or in the gym. Certainly if you do this in the gym on a cycling machine, you have the option of sitting upright whilst cycling, which may help to keep acid in place.
- Ballroom dancing: It's easy to forget that this is actually good physical exercise. You have the option of staying up right all the time, whilst both the upper and lower body get exercise.
- Swimming: Why not try experimenting with these exercises? Swimming doesn't have to be fast and furious. Simply go at your own pace and choose a stroke like breaststroke, which may lessen any jarring to your body.
- Aqua Aerobics: It allows you to stay in an upright position during the exercises and isn’t as jarring as exercise out of the water. However, if you do feel any jarring motion brings on heartburn, simply stop; or choose not to do that part of the exercise routine.
While you're trying out different exercises - or readjusting what you're already doing - you may need to find some relief from your heartburn symptoms. Consider Gaviscon Double Action. It gets to work instantly to form a physical barrier to the acid - a raft (or layer) on top of the stomach contents. Gaviscon Double Action also neutralises acid, offering you long lasting relief that's up to two times longer than antacids.
Try to remember, if you ever have concerns about your heartburn during or after your exercise routine, seek professional medical advice. A little exercise can be a positive step and something to build on so don’t let heartburn hold you back.
All information presented is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. Gaviscon Double Action for Heartburn & Indigestion. Always read the label. If symptoms are severe or prolonged you should consult a doctor or pharmacist.
Article published 1 January 2021