There are two major circulatory systems in our bodies: the blood vascular system and the lymphatic system.
While the blood system has been extensively studied, the lymphatic system has proven harder to research due to its “elusive morphology and mysterious pathophysiology”(1).
However, over the past decade science has brought us much closer to understanding how the lymphatic system works, changing our perception of the lymphatic system as being secondary to the blood vascular system.
Both are essential for human health and well-being.
How The Lymphatic System Works
The lymphatic system helps to regulate bodily fluids, macromolecular homeostasis, lipid absorption, and immune function. To these ends, the lymph system moves fluid and other contents from the interstitium, through the lymphatics (where the system gets its name), across the nodes, and into the veins.
The lymph pump function can be regulated by several factors such as neural, humoral, and physical.
Impairment of the lymph flow “can result in a wide range of pathologies, including lymphoedema, depressed immune function, impaired lipid metabolism, etc.”(2)
According to the World Health Organization, lymphoedema is a debilitating disease with hundreds of millions of patients affected worldwide(3).
Keeping The Lymph System Healthy
The fact is, until recently we did not have a comprehensive enough understanding of the lymphatic system to tell what does and doesn’t help with flushing toxins out of this system.
But recent studies on the lymphatic systems of patients with breast cancer and lymphoedema have shed new light on how we can better promote lymphatic health – and the answer is as simple as getting regular exercise.
Exercise And The Lymphatic System: Two Studies
In 2005, a then-cutting-edge study examined the implications of exercise for the lymphatic systems of breast cancer survivors.
“During steady-state exercise in humans, lymph flow has been shown to increase to levels approximately 2 to 3-fold higher than at rest,” the researchers reported(4).
The study found that exercise could help reduce the rates of lymphoedema in breast cancer survivors, with no adverse side effects.
A second study, done five years later, on patients suffering from lymphoedema, found that even brief exercise could significantly improve lymph system drainage:
“In some patients with lymphoedema, a 2-min exercise can accelerate tracer drainage, showing several compensatory mechanisms of lymph drainage.”(5)
The World Health Organization recommends daily physical exercise to prevent noncommunicable diseases like lymphoedema. Their recommended guidelines for daily physical activity for children and adults states that:
“Physical inactivity is now identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Physical inactivity levels are rising in many countries with major implications for the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases… and the general health of the population worldwide.”(6)
The conclusion is clear: regular exercise, such as a daily 20-minute walk, is great not only for your lymphatic system, but for your whole body as well.