Exercise and Gastritis: The Plusses and Minuses

Pain in the upper abdomen may be a symptom of gastritis.
Image Credit: Tharakorn/iStock/GettyImages

Your doctor may have told you that you have gastritis, a condition involving inflammation of the stomach lining. Most treatment options involve medications or vitamin supplements, depending on the type of gastritis at hand, but could non-medical options — like exercise — also affect outcomes?

Gastritis Symptoms

Among the symptoms that may afflict people with gastritis, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) highlights pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen, nausea, vomiting, a loss of appetite, weight loss and a premature or unusual sensation of feeling full during or after a meal.

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In the absence of treatment, NIDDK warns that people with gastritis may face:

  • An increased risk for developing stomach cancer.
  • An increased risk for sores on the stomach lining, known as peptic ulcers (which, in some cases, may lead to bleeding).
  • Anemia.
  • Loss of stomach lining glands that are critical for making stomach acid and enzymes.

Could Exercise Lower Risk?

Expert advice does suggest that there are indeed some links between exercise and gastritis. However, the connection may not be entirely positive.

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For example, exercising to prevent gastritis or limit its effect is not advisable, according to Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, an associate professor in the clinical nutrition department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She says she "would not expect exercise or weight loss to improve gastritis."

"In fact," adds Sandon, "I would expect exercise might make symptoms worse."

Similarly, research to date has identified both positive and negative aspects in the potential link between gastritis and exercise.

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On the positive side is a January 2017 review published in Sports Medicine, which concluded that moderate physical activity may curtail ulcer risk by reducing gastric secretions, improving immune function and diminishing stress. At the same time, it also found that prolonged endurance-type exercise might actually increase risk.

More evidence of a negative connection between gastritis and exercise was highlighted in the March/April 2012 issue of Current Sports Medicine Reports. That review noted that 30 to 70 percent of athletes complain of gastrointestinal issues.

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Risk for developing exercise-related abdominal pain appears to go up whenever athletes embark on a new exercise regimen or ratchet up the intensity of their standard exercise routine, the authors note. Why that occurs is poorly understood and difficult to treat, they say, though, on the upside, exercise-related GI issues typically resolve on their own.

Read more:Positive and Negative Effects of Exercise

Additional Lifestyle Changes Could Help

Other lifestyle choices, apart from exercise, also may affect gastritis risk and symptoms.

For example, Sandon points out that prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) — including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen — is known to drive up the risk for gastritis. So, limiting their use might lower your risk.

Emotional stress levels can also be a trigger for digestive conditions. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) notes several stress-induced gut symptoms and conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and peptic ulcers. You may be able to reduce future risk by adopting stress-relieving lifestyle changes beyond traditional exercise per se, such as meditation, deep breathing and lightening your schedule. You don't have to do it all.

To that end, Harvard Health Publishing suggests avoiding alcohol, quitting smoking and tweaking your diet to steer clear of fatty, spicy or very acidic foods.

Standard Medicinal Treatments

But when in doubt, standard interventions — which vary depending on gastritis type — can certainly prove effective.

NIDDK notes that the most common form of gastritis is a chronic condition caused by an infection with the ​Helicobacter pylori​ bacteria. Drug treatments include antibiotics, the stomach acid-reducing class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors and the antidiarrheal drug bismuth subsalicylate.

A less common type of gastritis takes the form of an autoimmune disorder. In this case, the person's own immune system starts to attack perfectly healthy cells in the stomach lining, NIDDK explains.

NIDDK says that anemia-correction supplements may be called for, such as vitamin B12, iron and folic acid, and sometimes vitamin B12 shots may be prescribed.

Read more:Will Fasting or Diet Changes Alleviate Gastritis?

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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