Exercises for the Lymphatic System

by Betty Holt

About Betty Holt

Betty Holt began writing professionally in 1966 as co-editor of a summer mimeographed newspaper, "The Galax News." She has written for "Grit," "Mountain Living," "Atlanta Weekly" and others. Holt received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Master of Education from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her articles specialize in health, fitness, nutrition and mental health.


The lymphatic system carries nutrients to and waste products away from every cell. Without adequate movement, these cells will sit in their own waste and hunger for nutrients. Some alternative health practitioners believe a clogged lymphatic system can lead to diseases such as arthritis, cancer and other degenerative diseases, but this has not been scientifically proven. Several exercises help the flow of lymph, but you should be cautious about exercising if you have recently undergone a procedure which may have negatively affected your lymphatic system such as cancer treatment.

Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs made up mainly of lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymph. Lymph vessels carry the lymph fluid throughout the body. Lymph nodes are found throughout the vessels. Along with the spleen, lymph nodes are the site where white blood cells fight infection. The cells in lymph are produced by the bone marrow and thymus, also part of the system. The lymphatic systems clears away infection, helping body fluids to stay in balance. An improperly working lymphatic system causes excess fluid and swelling, called lymphedema.

Lymphedema and Flexibility Exercises

Lymphedema is common in breast cancer survivors, especially if lymph nodes in the arm have been removed or the person has undergone radiation. The National Lymphedema Network takes the position that exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle. They report that lymphedema exercises have been studied and found to significantly reduce limb swelling and promote lymph flow. Flexibility exercises, for example, can minimize scarring and joint contractures, but should be performed slowly and increased gradually. When performed correctly, they can stretch muscles and connective tissue, which helps maintain range of motion.

Resistive Training Exercises

Resistive exercises are those performed with repetitions to gain muscle, tone and stamina. Usually it is in the form of weights and should be started gently and increased gradually, and monitored for injury or swelling if lymphedema is involved. These exercises have been studied in at-risk people, and when started slowly and increased gradually, have not caused or worsened lymphedema. According to the National Lymphedema Network, one study indicated compression of the body part may be beneficial to guard against the accumulation of lymph. Potentially, resistive exercises should help lymph flow.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise uses large muscle groups repetitively at 60 to 70 percent of a person's maximum heart rate. Examples of aerobic activities are jogging, cycling, swimming and rebounding, which is particularly effective. A rebounder, which is a mini-trampoline, has been used to help promote lymph flow in healthy people. Because lymph is completely dependent on physical exercise to move, vigorous exercise, such as rebounding, is reported to increase lymph flow by 15 to 30 times. You work against constant gravitational pressure while bouncing. Rebounding produces a pumping action which pulls out waste products from the cells and forces oxygen and nutrition from the bloodstream into them, according to the "Well Being Journal" website.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.