We all understand the importance of exercise for our overall health, but did you know that exercise can also serve as a pump for your lymphatic system? This is important because the lymphatic system plays a vital role in removing toxins and waste from our bodies.
The lymphatic system contains lymph nodes that cleanse the lymph fluid as it filters through them. The nodes store white blood cells, called lymphocytes as well as other immune cells to help destroy bacteria and other harmful substances before they are let back into the circulatory system and excreted as waste through urine, feces, or sweat.
Unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic system does not have its own pump. Circulation is supported by the heart as the pump, but the lymphatic system relies on activity and movement to support circulation. When we don’t do enough physical activity, the lymph becomes sluggish and congested – leading to a variety of issues such as fatigue, swelling, headaches, digestive problems, and even skin conditions.
Obesity impairs lymphatic function and leads to inflammation in tissues and organs, but research suggests that it can be reversed with regular exercise.1,2 Regular exercise helps to move the fluid through your body so it can be properly filtered and removed by your kidneys. Exercise also helps to prevent the fluid buildup and accumulation in your lymph system that can complicate issues such as heart failure or lymph node removal with cancer surgery.3
Lymphedema is an accumulation of fluids in the space between cells which can accumulate in areas of impaired lymphatic function and drainage causing chronic swelling of surrounding tissues. Many studies have examined the effects of lymphedema on breast cancer patients post-treatment. Exercise can be helpful to reduce inflammation and pain as well as to promote strength and function while reducing lymphedema symptoms.4,5
The best way to get your lymph flowing is through cardiovascular exercises like running or cycling which help increase heart rate and circulation. Weight resistance training also promotes lymph flow through muscle contraction. However, any type of movement such as yoga, strength training, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or even just walking can help to promote lymph movement. Deep breathing exercises like belly breathing can also assist in getting the lymphatic system working as it helps to create pressure which pushes the fluid around your body.
So if you’ve been feeling sluggish and haven’t been able to shake off those niggling health issues, get pumped up and try incorporating some physical activity into your daily routine. While there are other ways to keep your lymphatic system flowing, just a few short bursts of exercise each day could be all that is needed to get that lymphatic system running smoothly again! Remember that improving your lymph flow can reduce inflammation and pain associated with tissue swelling and toxin accumulation. So don’t forget, exercise not only keeps us fit and healthy on the outside but also helps keep our bodies functioning properly inside too.
Now go out there and get moving!
1. Hespe GE, Kataru RP, Savetsky IL, et al. Exercise training improves obesity-related lymphatic dysfunction. Journal of Physiology. 2016;594(15). doi:10.1113/JP271757
2. Kataru RP, Park HJ, Baik JE, Li C, Shin J, Mehrara BJ. Regulation of Lymphatic Function in Obesity. Front Physiol. 2020;11. doi:10.3389/fphys.2020.00459
3. Fu MR, Li Y, Conway C, Masone A, Fang J, Lee C. The Effects of Exercise-Based Interventions on Fluid Overload Symptoms in Patients with Heart Failure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Biomedicines. 2022;10(5). doi:10.3390/biomedicines10051111
4. Schmitz KH, Speck RM. Risks and benefits of physical activity among breast cancer survivors who have completed treatment. Women’s Health. 2010;6(2). doi:10.2217/whe.10.1
5. Baumann FT, Reike A, Reimer V, et al. Effects of physical exercise on breast cancer-related secondary lymphedema: a systematic review. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2018;170(1). doi:10.1007/s10549-018-4725-y
I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.