Exercise, lifestyle and the lymphatic system
Soreness and stiffness in the morning. Fatigue. Bloating. Itchy and dry skin. Water retention. Brain fog. Cold hands and feet. Worsened allergies. Sinus infections.
These symptoms could relate to a whole host of everyday illnesses, and yet combined they might also indicate a congested lymphatic system. Whilst we are often tempted to treat symptoms like the above with a pill or trip to the GP, the good news is that you can remedy this sickness just by getting active!
The lymphatic system is our body’s own waste removal service. It is the least talked about system in the body but is arguably the most vital. A major component of the circulatory system, and twice as large as the arterial system, it comprises a network of tissues and vessels that transport and dispose of lymphatic waste and other fluids. Its most important function is the role it plays in our immune response: lymphocytes (white blood cells) originate from and are transported in the lymphatic system to fight off diseases and infections. An impaired lymphatic system will lead to a weakened immune response, meaning we get ill more often.
Unlike the heart in the arterial system, the lymphatic system does not have an automatic pump, therefore maintaining fluid transport in the lymph vessels requires activity and movement from us. Poor lymph circulation results in inflammation or disease so it is imperative to make lifestyle changes to keep the lymph system healthy. Exercise is the answer.
Lack of movement
Pooling of lymphatic fluids can lead to blockages and swelling known as lymphostatic oedema. This occurs through the accumulation of toxins, reducing the function of cells and potentially leading to metabolic and infectious complications.
The lymph system requires breathing and movement from the body’s muscles to help move fluids and remove waste from the body.
Completing 10,000 steps throughout the day provides continuous physiological movement. The resulting skeletal muscle contractions compress on the lymphatic vessels and open the one-way valves, encouraging fluid containing waste and toxins to be removed.
The lymphatic system is 96% water. Dehydration causes the lymphatic system to slow down and inhibits waste removal from the body. This consequently leads to similar complications as brought about by sedentary behaviour.
Drinking 2L throughout the day will hydrate the body, help to replenish the lymphatic system, keep fluids moving and prevent stagnation that could lead to infection.
An alkaline environment in the body is the most optimal for the drainage of the lymphatic system. When we experience stress, cortisol (a stress fighting hormone) is released, resulting in metabolic acidosis. Cortisol’s acidic nature can cause a breakdown of lymphoid tissue, suppress immune function, reduce the circulation of protective antibodies and promote fat gain.
We can’t reduce your stress levels, but we can change the way your body responds to stress. Long-term physical activity can help to reduce your heart rate through its response to exercise: an increased stroke volume leads to a lower stress response and therefore less cortisol is produced, allowing for a more homeostatic environment for the lymphatic system.
Filling our bodies with foods rich in toxins, processed goods, and foods with high oil and sugar content can slow the lymphatic system.
There are various foods that help to cleanse the lymphatic system and keep you energised and active, which is crucial in keeping the body’s bin truck functioning. Here are just a few:
1. Citrus fruits, in particular lemons and oranges
2. Most berries, including cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, acai berries and gooseberries
3. All types of green fruit and veg – leafy greens, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kiwis, cucumbers are winners
4. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds
5. Chia, hemp and flax seeds
6. Herbs and spices, in particular turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and black pepper
7. Seaweed and algae (spirulina, kelp, nori, wakame, cholerella and dulse)
Cortisol, stress and exercise – DNAFit Blog. 2018. Cortisol, stress and exercise – DNAFit Blog. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.dnafit.com/blog/cortisol_stress_and_exercise_3295.asp.
Cueni, L.N. and Detmar, M. 2008. The Lymphatic System in Health and Disease. Lymphatic Research and Biology, 6.
Elephant Journal. 2018. The Silent but Deadly Impact of Stress on the Lymphatic System. | elephant journal. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/05/the-silent-but-deadly-impact-of-stress-on-the-lymphatic-system/.
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2018. Lymphoid tissue | anatomy | Britannica.com. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/science/lymphoid-tissue.
Gemmotherapy with Lauren Hubele. 2018. Lymphatic System 101 – Gemmotherapy with Lauren Hubele. [ONLINE] Available at: https://laurenhubele.com/lymphatic-system-101/.
Lymphatic Yoga Expert. 2018. How Important Is Water To The Lymphatic System? – Lymphatic Yoga Expert. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.lymphaticyogaexpert.com/how-important-is-water-to-the-lymphatic-system/.
Schwartz, M.A. The physiology of the lymphatic system. Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews, 50(1-2), pp. 3-20.
Sinking Above The Line. 2018. Chronic Dehydration: Effects on the Body – Sinking Above The Line. [ONLINE] Available at: https://sinkingabovetheline.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/chronic-dehydration-effects-on-the-body/.
The UK’s leading Sports Psychology Website. 2018. The effect of exercise on the stress response – The UK’s leading Sports Psychology Website · The UK’s leading Sports Psychology Website . [ONLINE] Available at: http://believeperform.com/wellbeing/effect-exercise-stress-response/.