The Importance of the Lymph System to Health
Most of us know that a sedentary lifestyle causes health to decline, and yet a large part of the population of all ages do not move or exercise regularly. Sitting at a desk, lounging on the sofa, driving, lying in bed and so on. The modern world encourages us to be sedentary as technology has us rooted to our devices, work has most of us chained to our desks and we become lethargic and inactive.
Our body systems only work effectively when we exercise, move and breathe. Why is movement so vital to the physical body? One aspect to consider is the seemingly invisible lymphatic system, whose function is vital to optimum health. The lymph system is everywhere in the body, it is the drainage system for waste, moving it towards our cleansing organs. However, unlike the heart and vascular system, there is no pump in the lymph system and yet there is more lymph fluid than there is blood. The lymph system only works through exercise and movement (muscular contractions). Slight muscle movement will start to activate the lymph system, however a person who frequently exercises will help the system function in a more efficient way.
Movement and Disease
If the lymph fluid does not flow freely through the lymph node ducts towards the organs for 'cleaning' and 'recycling', then they become clogged up like a blocked drain. The dirty fluid can then become infected and will start causing a decline in health. Lymphedema is caused by a blockage in the lymph system, and cancer cells can be distributed by the lymph system too. Add to this poor nutrition, those eating a diet of processed foods, fizzy drinks and booze, the lymph system struggles more and this weakens the immune system further.
Exercise and movement have a huge effect on how our body recovers from illness and disease. In times of recovery we need to flush out toxins as quickly as possible, to return to a stable state of health. Without movement, the duration for recovery is lengthened. Read more in my article on Tai Chi and qi gong for injury recovery.
Breathing and the Lymph System
Diaphragmatic breathing helps improve the function of the lymph system. The expanding and compressing motion when breathing a full abdominal breath helps to pump the waste fluid through the chest area. This does not happen when breathing shallowly into the upper chest area.
Effective Physical Movements
Tai Chi and qi gong movements are often described as 'hydraulic movements', with expanding, compressing and spiralling motion that connects the whole body. This is combined with diaphragmatic breathing, intention and purpose in a slow and relaxed manner. This total body movement is seen as the most effective exercise for enhancing the function of the lymph system when performed correctly and frequently.
Not all movements are equal however, the body needs to go through a complete range of motion. Walking and moving your arms and legs through your daily routine is not an effective form of exercise. These are seen as habitual postures and movements. Exercise should take you outside of this. That said not all Tai Chi and qi gong movements are equal either, as it depends on the knowledge and experience of your instructor in body mechanics.
In Tai Chi and qi gong training, emphasis is placed on movements that expand, compress and spiral. All Tai Chi and qigong movements use the 'Kua', a Chinese word covering the inguinal groove through the pelvis, hip bones, hip joint and into the lower back. By increasing movement in the Kua, this aids softness, flexibility, strength and fluidity, which helps to pump lymph fluid around the lymph system. The inguinal groove area also holds a large amount of lymph nodes, which is why Kua movements are of importance and quite unique to Tai Chi and qi gong training. We also work the shoulders through a good range of motion, similar to the Kua, with an expand and compression motion that helps pump lymph fluid towards the lymph nodes under the arm pits.
The lymph system is not the only beneficiary of this pumping action, the circulation, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid in the joints, cellular fluid and internal organs all work more efficiently when the body exercises.
Move more, move better..... As the renowned Dave Hedges of Wild Geese Martial Arts once said “Motion is lotion”.
- Qigong and Tai Chi; The Lymph System by Roger Jankle
- Lowering your Risk of Lymphoedema by Cancer Research UK
- Effects of qigong exercise on upper limb lymphedema and blood flow in survivors of breast cancer: A pilot study.
- Exercise for limb lymphoedema: evidence that it is beneficial.
- Movement Matters - Pumping the Lymphatic System. www.lungcancer.net
- Exercise, lifestyle and the lymphatic system.
Please speak with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise programme. This article is for information purposes only and must not be taken as medical advice.