Unlike your circulatory system, your lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump of its own, so it relies on you to move to help circulte lymphatic fluids. When you exercise your breathing and contracting muscles are what cause your lymph fluid to move. The good news is aerobic and resistance training exercises can both improve your lymph circulation. However, they also can increase the amount of fluid your body has to process. Muscles strains and injuries can also cause an increased workload on an already overloaded or compromised lymphatic system.
Aerobic exercise and yoga can help promote deep breathing which has been shown to help stimulate lymphatic drainage. In addition, exercise plays a vital role in helping you maintain a healthy weight. Since excess fat requires more blood vessels, in turn, creating more fluid, it places a greater burden on your lymphatic system as well as on your cardiovascular system. The bottom line is exercise is good for you, but there are guidelines and precautions you should follow.
Before starting any exercise program, speak with your doctors and discuss your risk of lymphedema. Speak with a certified lymphedema specialist if you are at high risk or already have lymphedema, some important things for you to consider are:
- Ask if you should be fitted for a compression sleeve to wear during strenuous activities.
- Take full body measurements before stating an exercise program. Re-measure periodically; report any changes to your doctors.
- Avoid wearing tight restricting clothing while exercising
- Avoid excessive repetitive resistance actions (i.e. shoveling heavy snow)
- Start out slowly, progressing gradually
- Since symptoms may take a while to show up, allow enough rest time between exercise sessions.
- Listen to your body, do not overdo it
Stop exercising if…
It’s extremely important to listen to your body and know when to stop. Stop exercising if:
- You have a fever
- You experience any pain
- You experience any shortness of breath
- You have any cramps
- You are nauseous
- You feel confused or disoriented
- You have an irregular heartbeat
Notify your doctor if…
It is always best to err on the side of caution and contact your doctor if you suspect there is a chance of lymphedema developing. Notify your doctor if:
- You notice any swelling, with or without pain,
- Any part of the affected area feels hot, looks red, has red blotches or streaks, gets tender (sore when touched), or swells suddenly. These could be a sign of infection and you may need antibiotics.
- You have chills or your temperature is 100.5° F or higher
- You have any new pain in the affected area with no known cause.
Although there are precautions, don’t be afraid to exercise, just do so with caution and seek the advice of professionals when needed.