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Date of last update: 10/20/2017.

Forum Name: Cardiology Diagnostics

Question: exercise questions...

 borninlbc - Sun Dec 31, 2006 1:23 pm

...i have some simple questions...

1. how long does it take for your food to digest?

2. if you've eaten a meal,how long should you wait before exercising?

3. what symptoms could you have if you start to exercise before your food is fully digested?

I only ask these questions because i had a stress test/stress echo performed on me back in June, but today i read something on the internet and it said that if you eat a meal, you should wait a couple of hours before having these tests performed on you...

I did eat a meal (not a big meal) about 20 - 30 mins before the tests only because i didnt wanna jump onto a treadmill on an empty stomach....i do not recall the cardiologist saying anything to me about not eating....the only thing he told me to do was to wear comfortable running shoes...

i felt fine on the treadmill plus my tests were normal....everything should be ok right?
 John Kenyon, CNA - Tue Jan 02, 2007 1:32 am

User avatar Hello borninbc - It is difficult to give a pat answer to your first question. For complete digestion to take place it might take as much as 12 hours. However, for the sake of ordinary things like exercise, if it is going to be serious exercise, then an hour at least, as the body's resources are being devoted to breaking down the food and moving it out of the stomach during the first hour. Some people digest more slowly than others, though. Generally if one no longer has the typical "full" feeling then the bolus of food has largely left the stomach. This is important for sevaral reasons. One is the fact that the energy being used to digest the food is subtracted from that available for exercise, which puts a mild to moderate stress on all the systems involved. Exercise is best accomplished when nothing else is demanding attention.

Secondly, when food is still in the stomach vigorous exercise can upset the stomach, as there is then competition for the energy and resources. This can also lead to reflux or regurgitation of food and, if swimming, can lead to muscle cramps in the extremities. Much depends, however, on the size of the meal. A heavy meal deserves an hour or more before vigorous exercise. A very light meal might not place much demand on the body, so a shorter delay would be in order.

Generally the symptoms one would experience if exercising too soon after eating would be indigestion, acid reflux, possible chest pain or heartburn, and a lowered energy level leading to less ability to exercise. If a person were to have heart disease all these things would become more exaggerated and the heart could be stressed as well.

In the case of stress tests, especially with echo, doctors usually
will allow a light breakfast the day of the test, a few hours beforehand, and usually a light snack in between the treadmill portion and the second set of pictures if a nuclear scan is done. If it is a stress echocardiogram it's more important to keep the stomach relatively empty because the stomach is so close to the heart that the presence of food in there can make it difficult to visualize the heart's structures. (the heart normally rests just above the upper part of the stomach, and food tends to collect there in defiance of logic, so can get in the way of the view).

Since your doctor didn't tell you to avoid eating and since there were no complaints or problems with performing the test, my guess is everything went fine. You would have heard about it if the light meal had interfered with anything. Sounds like it all worked out just fine.

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