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How Can I Exercise Without Heartburn?

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Updated July 26, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: How Can I Exercise Without Heartburn?
Answer: Exercise is rarely the cause of heartburn if a person doesn't suffer from chronic heartburn beforehand. If you have had heartburn occur during exercise, you may think you can't exercise at all. You may even be afraid to try exercise again, fearing there is no way to avoid the unpleasant consequences.

While some exercises may induce episodes of heartburn, there is a way to exercise that will allow you to burn the calories without creating the burn of heartburn.

Heartburn is more likely to occur during jarring exercises than during low-impact ones. There are a few things a person can do to reduce the chances of a heartburn flare-up during exercise.

  • Talk to your doctor: If heartburn is a problem during exercise, you should discuss this with your doctor before you try any kind of treatment. Ask what types of exercise will cause the least amount of discomfort for you, and what you can do to ease the heartburn if it happens again.

  • Avoid workouts immediately after meals: Eating shortly before starting to exercise can lead to heartburn. Unless you are taking a leisurely walk, you should wait two hours after eating to start your exercise. If all you have eaten is a small snack, the wait time may not need to be as long. You can keep track of your exercise and meal times for a few days to see what works best for you.

  • Watch what you eat: It's a given that you should avoid the foods that can cause your heartburn. These foods may include chocolate, caffeinated drinks, and fatty meals. And speaking of fatty meals, high-fat foods tend to take longer to digest -- and the longer they stick around in your stomach, the greater the chance of heartburn.

    If you aren't sure what your "safe" foods are, keep a food diary for a week or two, and track what foods cause heartburn for you. You will also want to check out these meal planning tips for preventing heartburn.

  • Drink water: Make sure you drink plenty of water during your workout. Not only will it keep you hydrated, but water helps with digestion, which can lower your risk of heartburn.

  • Change your workout: What types of exercise are you doing? For some people, jarring exercises, such as jogging or high-impact aerobics, will trigger heartburn. Or maybe it's the sit-ups and headstands that are doing it. If you suffer from heartburn during a type of exercise, try going for a lower-impact type of exercise. For example, walking instead of jogging may help. Bicycling or swimming may be better for you than high-impact aerobics.

    If you go to a fitness center, you can ask your instructor about low-impact exercises that will help strengthen your core muscles if those abdominal crunches are causing heartburn. You doctor may also be able to provide some suggestions. You will also want to check out the information About.com's Guide to Exercise has on low-impact exercise.

  • Take an antacid: You can ask your doctor about whether taking an antacid before exercise may help you. Antacids help neutralize stomach acid, and may reduce the occurrence of heartburn while you exercise.

Remember that exercise-induced heartburn is sometimes confused with true cardiac chest pain, so if your heartburn is especially severe during exercise, be sure to seek medical attention.

Sources:

Carol Ann Rinzler, Ken DeVault, MD. Heartburn & Reflux For Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2004

"Facts & Fallacies about Heartburn and GERD." The American College of Gastroenterology, n.d. 17 Aug 2010. http://www.acg.gi.org/patients/gerd/info17.asp.

"Heartburn and GERD FAQ." The American College of Gastroenterology, n.d. 17 Aug 2010. http://www.acg.gi.org/patients/gerd/faqansw.asp.

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