Exercise of the lymphatic system is probably one of the most important outcomes of a good physical regimen–and one that we scarcely think about.

The lymphatic network is part of the immune system and is made up of fluid (the word "lymph" is derived from the Latin word for clear water), lymphatic vessels, bone marrow (where immune cells are manufactured), lymph nodes, the spleen and tonsils. Interstitial fluid is pumped through this system via the muscles. Without muscle contraction, fluid diffusion is inhibited and waste protein accumulates.

The detoxifying abilities of the lymphatic system are reduced by poor diet, stress and heavy metal and environmental toxicity, which may result in hormonal dysfunction, immune suppression and chronic degenerative disease. The lymph fluid also contains infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that is crucial in regulating and carrying out most of the activities of the immune system. If the system is weak, we are subject to the invasion of allergies, flu viruses and bacterial organisms.

The lymph glands, located mainly around the neck, armpits and groin, indicate an infection is present by painful swelling and tenderness to the touch. Conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure and depression have all been linked to poor lymphatic drainage. The lymph is the body’s waste highway.

Jump for Joy...and Health

So how do you exercise the lymphatic system? It’s as easy as jumping up and down. Working up a sweat on a mini-trampoline exercises not just your muscles but your cells, too. It’s called "rebounding," and it could save your life because it’s great for the body’s internal disposal unit.

Rebounding aids lymphatic circulation by stimulating the millions of one-way valves in the system. Jumping up and down improves the diffusion and peristalsis of interstitial fluid between the cells. Better circulation means better cell health.

When you exercise vigorously, the lymph fluid speeds up from about 120 millilitres per hour to as much as 1,800 ml/hour. This change occurs because when muscle contraction takes place, fats, glucose and glycogen are used up to leave behind carbon dioxide, heat, water, lactic and uric acid. It is up to the lymphatic system to make sure these pollutants are removed from the body.

Are signs of cellulite starting to worry you? Keep jumping! In cases of insufficient surface stimulation, or where there is lack of aerobic or oxygen-producing exercise, the buildup of toxins in the surface tissues is called cellulite.

Eat for Immunity

Along with a vigorous physical regimen, diet is another predictable method of ensuring an active immune system. If you are a couch potato and have poor nutritional habits but want to make a change, start by initiating a detoxification cleanse.

Hydrating your body with water should be done throughout the day, not large amounts all at once. Thirst is the first indication of dehydration! Try not to reach that point. Use about 30 ml or two tablespoons of water per kilogram (one-half ounce or one tablespoon of water per pound) of weight to determine the quantity of water required during the day. Do not include juice, coffee or regular tea in this calculation.

Maintain a basic supplementation program that includes vitamin C, B- complex, greens and multiminerals. Where possible, emphasize organic foods in the diet. Avoid sugar products and any known food allergens. Many people also have unknown food sensitivities, which can cause digestive upsets and diarrhea. I would recommend taking a brutally honest look at what you eat. Allow one day and use a journal to write down everything you put into your mouth. Monitor your mood swings as well as your energy levels. As you read the ingredients of the products you are ingesting, take note of the sugar content. You may be surprised at how much refined sugar you’re consuming.

Quick Tips

Always carry healthy snacks with you, including fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds and energy bars. Consider the way various foods decay. Those products that are loaded with preservatives have long expiry dates. Fresh foods decay more quickly because they have more nutritional value.

To save time, clean all your vegetables as soon as you buy them. Prepare a large salad and use leftover ingredients for sandwiches, veggie plates and travel snacks. Many foods have specific healing properties; for example, barley is a calcium supplier and colon aid as well as a lymph cleanser. Seaweeds such as kombu and kelp also improve water metabolism and clean the lymphatic system.

Get adequate rest at night. At least eight hours sleep is essential for most people. Practice relaxation techniques to reduce stress. Exert yourself to sweat; the moisture produced is full of waste material. Brushing your body once a day with a natural bristle dry-skin brush will cause the lymph to move and thus vitalize the skin surface by removing dead cells. Lymphatic drainage can also be enhanced with special massage, chiropractic and osteopathic techniques. At home, alternating hot and cold baths can invigorate both the lymphatic and circulatory systems. And remember, lots of jumping!

About the Author

Lynn McIntosh is a nutritionist practising in Surrey, BC. She can be reached at 604-538-2247. E-mail: lynn@thenutritionist.org.