The Lowdown on Lymph

We may not know much about our lymph health, but a healthy lymphatic system is vital for our overall health. We look at the part that exercise can play in keeping it fighting fit.

Lymph is a clear fluid made up of white blood cells that helps the body fight bacteria, viruses and toxins. As a vital part of the body’s lymphatic system, lymph is transported around the body by a network of vessels which lead into lymph nodes. There are between 600 – 700 of these nodes altogether in the body, mostly found in the neck, armpits, groin and around the heart, lungs and intestines. As the lymph passes through a node, bacteria and toxins are filtered from it and white blood cells called lymphocytes, a type of immune cell, are added to it.

Your lymphatic system includes your bone marrow, tonsils, adnoids, spleen, thymus and lymph nodes and although it’s independent of your immune system, it provides a variety of immune functions that ward off infections, viruses and injury. Keeping it healthy and flowing well can even help prevent cancer. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep your lymphatic system in shape, including dry body brushing vertically upwards, and deep diaphragmatic breathing, both of which facilitate the movement of lymph through the bloodstream, helping to eliminate toxins more efficiently. Likewise eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water and getting enough restorative sleep are also advised, but one of the most important things we can do to promote good lymph circulation is to exercise regularly.

Moving lymph around the body requires movement and the contraction of muscles, as unlike blood, it’s not pumped by the heart. And unlike the heart which flows in several directions around your body, lymph tends to only flow upwards towards your neck. In order to stimulate the system therefore, it’s important to keep your muscles moving and get your heart rate going.

While it’s important to get your whole body moving, the main lymph vessels run up the legs, arms, and torso so moving those areas will impact your lymph the most. If you’re a fan of water barre or swimming, experts agree that exercising under water can help encourage a flow even more, thanks to the pressure from the water. If you’re someone who’s been enjoying daily walks during lockdown, keep at it but ensure you factor in briskly swinging your arms as part of your plan.