Is Walking Good For Acid Reflux ?

walking and acid reflux / a man is walking

The short and straight answer to the question asked in the title is yes. Walking is good for acid reflux and can help control acid reflux symptoms, such as heartburn.

In fact, it can even be said that walking is arguably the best form of exercise for acid reflux sufferers who are otherwise healthy.

However, indicating that walking is good for GERD (chronic acid reflux) sufferers is not enough and convincing on its own.

For this reason, we are going to provide 6 solid reasons that could explain why walking is an ideal form of exercise for people with acid reflux.

Besides, we will analyse the findings of a study carried out to evaluate the effects of post-meal walking on acid reflux.

What is Acid Reflux?

According to Mayo Clinic: “Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of your food pipe relaxes at the wrong time, allowing stomach acid to back up into your oesophagus (food pipe)”. (1).

As for the acid reflux symptoms; Below, we listed the most common symptoms:

  • Burning sensation in the chest (heartburn)
  • Sour/bitter taste in the mouth or back of the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent cough
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Hiccups
  • Bad Breath

Though, if you have chronic acid reflux – which means having heartburn more than twice for several weeks – then you must already be familiar with some of these symptoms.

Acid reflux can cause many symptoms, however, the most common symptom of acid reflux is heartburn. That is why acid reflux and heartburn are often used interchangeably.

It bears repeating if acid reflux occurs more than twice a week for several weeks, it is called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), in other words, chronic acid reflux (2).

 

Exercise and Chronic Acid Reflux (GERD)

When acid reflux becomes chronic (GERD), certain lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise modifications should be made to keep acid reflux under control.

The problem with doing exercise is that various types of physical exercise can trigger heartburn in people with acid reflux, let alone help them to cope with acid reflux (3),(4).

Even exercises like swimming and running – both of which normally offer a variety of health benefits – can trigger heartburn (5),(6),(7).


If you want to know why swimming and running are potential heartburn triggers, you can click the links below.


“Any activity that causes a lot of bouncing or jiggling is likely to increase your risk of GERD symptoms,” says Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He also notes that calmer activities — like walking — are less likely to cause problems (8),(9).

So what sets walking apart from other healthy exercises when it comes to acid reflux?

Why is walking an ideal form of exercise whereas for instance; running, sprinting or weightlifting are potential heartburn triggers?

 

6 Reasons Why Walking Is Good For Acid Reflux

The reasons below should explain why walking is arguably the best form of exercise for acid reflux sufferers.

 

1- Walking is a Low-Impact Exercise

According to National Health Service (NHS); walking is by far the most popular lowimpact exercise (10).

You may want to ask whether or not this is relevant? Well, it is relevant because if you have GERD, it is important for you to choose a low-impact exercise!

This is because low-impact exercises such as walking do not increase abdominal pressure whereas high-impact exercises such as weightlifting, crunches or running increase abdominal pressure significantly.

What happens when abdominal pressure increases in people with acid reflux?

Increased pressure on the abdomen can force stomach acid to move up towards the food pipe, causing heartburn, especially in people who suffer from chronic acid reflux (3),(11).

In fact, this factor (increased abdominal pressure) explains why so many people experience heartburn more often while performing strenuous exercise.

Unless you walk too fast (as if you are running) walking is least likely to increase abdominal pressure; therefore least likely to trigger heartburn.

Please note that, if you wear tight clothes that increase pressure on your abdomen, you may experience heartburn while walking, caused by not walking but by your tight walking clothes (12),(13).

 

2- Easy To Breathe

Once again unless you walk too fast, you wouldn’t get out of breath while walking. And that is quite positive in terms of preventing acid reflux.

You may want to ask what does breathing have to do with acid reflux? Here is the answer…

When performing high-intensity exercises; such as stair-climbing, sprinting or jump roping; your body needs more oxygen. And, to meet increased oxygen need, you’d gulp air deeply and more often.

The problem is that gulping air during high-impact exercise may relax the lower esophagal sphincter (LES), a group of muscles that prevents stomach content from moving up. This can force stomach acid into the food pipe, thus causing heartburn, according to Healthline (14).

Considering that an average walking pace doesn’t cause you to breathe deeply and rapidly, walking carries significantly less risk for triggering heartburn compared to high-impact exercises that compel you to breathe deeply and rapidly.

 

3- Walking Aids Digestion

Scientific studies and medical experts agree on the fact that doing exercise on a regular basis increases intestinal activity, making digestion easier (15),(16),(17).

A smoothly functioning digestion is important for decreasing the risk of heartburn. This is because faster digestion means that foods stay in your stomach no longer than they should, preventing your stomach from producing more acid to break down foods, which in turn, reduce the risk of having heartburn along with other symptoms such as bloating, burping and nausea.

Although high-intensity exercises, too, improve digestion, they are not ideal for people with GERD since they can potentially trigger acid reflux in different ways, for instance by increasing abdominal pressure or relaxing LES muscle.

Walking, once again, appears to be the best type of exercise for acid reflux sufferers as it doesn’t trigger acid reflux, plus aids digestion.

Another advantage of walking is that it can be done even right after a heavy meal to facilitate digestion whereas exercises like running or swimming may not be suitable for post-meal (18),(19),(20).

Medical experts note: ” A brisk walk after a meal can massively aid digestion and reduce the symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux from presenting later in the evening.” (21).

 

4- Body Position

One of the most effective and natural ways to prevent acid reflux is to use gravity in your favour! Here is how…

Gravity keeps stomach acid in the stomach while sitting or standing, preventing stomach acid or contents from moving up towards the food pipe (22).

That indicates; your body position matters a lot when it comes to preventing acid reflux.

For instance; when you sleep or lie down (although it depends on your sleeping position) gravity is no longer keeps the stomach acid where it belongs; that is why people with GERD often get heartburn at night.

Some types of exercises change your body’s position and make gravity work against you in terms of acid reflux, as is seen in the image above.

Another example is swimming in the prone position or diving to the bottom of the water.

When you walk though gravity works in your favour as it keeps the stomach acid where it belongs.

Needless to say, as long as stomach acid stays where it belongs you won’t feel any burning sensation in the middle of your chest or other acid reflux symptoms.

To sum up; since gravity keeps the stomach content down while walking, you are less likely to get heartburn when you walk. In this regard; it can be said that walking is an ideal type of exercise for acid reflux sufferers.

 

5- Walking Helps Lose Weight

If you are obese or overweight, you are almost three times more likely to develop acid reflux compared to people with normal weight, according to scientific studies and medical experts (23),(24),(25). 

In one study researchers aimed to measure the impact of weight loss on GERD symptoms (26).

A total of 322 people participated in the study. With a weight-loss strategy designed by the researchers, 97 per cent of all obese and overweight participants lost weight in 6 months.

Researchers revealed that there was also a significant decrease in the overall prevalence of GERD in the subjects in parallel with weight loss.

Thereupon researchers concluded that a structured weight loss program can lead to complete resolution of GERD symptoms in the majority of obese and overweight people (26).

This alone can show the importance of maintaining a healthy weight to prevent acid reflux.

As we all know doing exercise on a regular basis is one of the most effective ways to lose weight.

In fact, high-intensity exercises like; interval training, running or jumping rope are more effective than walking in terms of weight loss.

However, walking is one of the rare types of exercise that can help you lose weight without giving you heartburn.

 

6- Walking Helps Relieve Stress

Studies and surveys suggest that stress and anxiety may either trigger acid reflux or worsen the symptoms (27),(28),(29).

If stress genuinely affects acid reflux in a negative way, as scientists suggest; then reducing stress should help people to manage acid reflux.

There are many ways to relieve stress; spending time with loved ones, eating a healthy diet, doing meditation, to name but a few.

Doing exercise is also an excellent way to relieve stress (30),(31).

According to scientific studies; walking can reduce stress levels, thus contributing to mental health (32),(33).

The conclusion is that walking on a regular basis especially with loved ones can lower your stress; hence, helping you better manage your acid reflux symptoms.

 

A Study On Walking and Acid Reflux

In a study; researchers aimed to evaluate the effect of both walking and gum chewing on meal-induced acid reflux (27),(28).

A total of 36 people – 12 with chronic acid reflux, 24 healthy – participated in the study.

All subjects were given a standard breakfast for 3 days and their oesophageal (food pipe) pH (acidity) levels were measured each day after the breakfast.

  • The first day, subjects remained in a sitting position after having breakfast
  • On the second day, subjects walked for 1 hour after having breakfast
  • On the third day,  subjects chewed gum for 1 hour after having breakfast

The results revealed that chewing gum for 1 hour after breakfast reduced the acid contact time in both healthy individuals and GERD patients.

In addition to that; 1 hour of walking after the meal reduced oesophageal (food pipe) acid exposure, only in GERD patients, only short duration.

 

Conclusion

Walking has always been among the healthiest exercises. It can be done nearly everywhere and doesn’t require any special equipment apart from a pair of shoes. Plus, everyone, regardless of age, can do this sport with ease.

But, if you suffer from chronic acid reflux, aka GERD, the value of walking can be even greater for you.

Because, many types of exercises can potentially trigger acid reflux, damaging your health in an indirect way.

In this article, we have explained why walking is the best type of exercise for people with acid reflux. Walking can help you prevent acid reflux or ease the symptoms.

Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be understood that walking will literally stop acid reflux and solve the problem for good.

What you eat is also quite important. If you always consume foods that can trigger acid reflux, walking may not be as effective as you think it would.

Finally; if you almost always experience heartburn regardless of all of your efforts, we strongly recommend you to work with your physician.

 



 

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