Heartburn is a painful burning sensation in the area just above the stomach due to the reflux of acid and other stomach contents into the oesophagus.
The reason for this reflux in turn is the relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle due to poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity though there might be other physiological or pathological reasons too.
Heartburn is a relatively common phenomenon but it shouldn’t be ignored as it might lead to a severe form known as gastro oesophageal reflux disease or GERD .
Walking after meals is beneficial for heartburn treatment
Walking after meals or as medically known-postprandial walking is advised in general by all medical practitioners for an overall good health. It is clear that physical activity, including walking has substantial benefits on not only the physiological but psychological health also . It can reduce rates of chronic disease and ameliorate the increasing costs of healthcare.
However, walking is also of many types and not all types are helpful for maintaining good health and a healthy gut. It is generally considered that brisk walking at a pace of 3-4mph is best for stomach, digestion and increasing the gut activity .
Most research on postprandial walking has been done on its effect on lowering of blood glucose levels in diabetes and hypertension because it increases the speed of emptying of stomach. This can be indirectly linked with heartburn because retention of food longer into the stomach is one of the major factors that cause acid refluxes and thus heartburn .
Postprandial walking has many types of effects on the gut which collectively work to reduce heartburn. Researches performed on human as well as on different animal subjects have shown a variety of beneficial effects of walking on the digestive system.
Reduction in transit time of food
Heartburn largely depends upon the transit time of food in the gut. The more it is retained in the stomach, the more is the pressure experienced by the stomach to push it down for defecation, causing the gut to secrete more acid which can reflux back due the pressure.
A study on constipated patients has revealed that walking reduces the transit time of food in the gastrointestinal tract, making it faster to pass through the stomach and intestines so that only appropriate acid amounts are secreted. This is attributed to increase in muscular activity of the gut and improvement in the defecation patterns .
Reduction in stress levels
It has been demonstrated that physiological stresses have been associated with exacerbations of the symptoms in functional and inflammatory disorders of the gastrointestinal system. Heartburn severity is most responsive to life stresses and psychological health because stress induces vital exhaustion, oesophageal acid exposure, relaxation of sphincter muscle and increased retention time of food in the gut due to poor digestion .
It has been shown that walking positively affects the psychological state by decreasing the stress level of the mind, thereby reducing the adverse effects on other parts of the body, including stomach .
Increase in respiration and blood flow
Walking increases the rate of respiration, oxygen uptake and blood flow in the body.
It has been long known that increase in respiration and blood circulation increases the gastric and pancreatic secretions, increasing the digestibility of the food so that stomach emptying is faster and there is less acid to be refluxed back to cause heartburns , .
Relaxation of blood vessels and muscles for increased flow
Increased blood flow is also associated with the pressure of the blood flowing in the blood vessels. If the blood pressure is more, the vessels and the muscles are less relaxed which does not allow them to function properly. Same is the case with stomach muscles which need to be relaxed for maximum efficiency.
Walking has been shown to decrease the lipid levels and thus the systolic blood pressure of human subjects, thereby relaxing the body .
Reduction of fat
Brisk walking reduces the overall fat content of the body and increases the digestibility of the food so that less amount of fat is deposited. This indirectly ameliorates heartburn and acid refluxes because inactivity and obesity put a pressure on sphincter muscle, thereby relaxing it and causing heartburns.
Stimulation of digestion
High lipid and fat content of the food takes a longer time to get digested. This also increases the lipid levels in blood causing other problems besides heartburn. Walking after meals reduces the lipid content in the blood and stimulates faster digestion so that the food is not retained in the stomach for longer times, preventing episodes of heartburn , .
Reduction in fatigue
Regular walking increases body strength and reduce fatigue which is important because the gut needs to be more vital for efficient digestion. In case of fatigue or tiredness, all the parts of the body including the stomach lose their vitality and thus, their efficacy. Brisk walking every day after meals increases the activity of the body and the gut to keep the pace of digestion proper, preventing heartburns.
Directions for proper postprandial walking
As mentioned earlier, walking can be at varying speeds which are beneficial at differential time points depending on body condition. Postprandial walking is effective only when it is brisk, about 3-4 mph and not a slow relaxed one or an intensified one .
According to Centre for Disease Control, USA, walking for up to 60 minutes after meals , at least 5 days a week is highly effective in maintaining a healthy gut and avoiding gastrointestinal problems like GERD or heartburns. The timing of walking is also important, for lowering blood glucose levels, a relatively shorter duration walk such as 20-30 minutes is enough , but for proper digestion of food and avoiding heartburns, longer periods are required.
For the beginners, it is advisable to start with shorter time and distances, for instance 10 minutes per day and then increase the time by 5 minutes, per week. Walking after meals or any kind of exercise should not be done all at once as a compensation for a missed walk . Effect of walking however is for a short duration only, but is nevertheless enough for combating heartburns .
Brisk walking has many beneficial effects on the body overall such as reduction in blood glucose levels after meals in diabetics, reduction in blood pressure for patients suffering from hypertension, increasing respiration rate, vitality of the muscles and organs, increasing blood flow, increasing digestion and maintaining a healthy gut.
All these factors directly or indirectly work to allay symptoms of heartburn. Regular walking everyday post meals is extremely helpful to keep diseases away from the body and increase life expectancy.