Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Within your body is an incredible system called the lymphatic system. Sure it also happens to be a complicated system, but let’s simplify it a bit so that we can understand its importance. First, your blood circulates around the body and in it you have stuff! Yep, we’re getting really simple here. The stuff includes water, certain nutrients from your food digestion which includes sugar (glucose), blood cells that carry oxygen to your cells, and then the cells waste products (carbon dioxide) back to the lungs for exchange for more oxygen, urea for elimination and lactic acid which is converted back into glucose. It has white blood cells to strengthen the immune system, hormones to regulate the function of the body, proteins and cholesterol for repair and fats to help make energy. So your blood is pretty important stuff.
Now, when your blood travels through your body, it releases fluid from the capillaries (smallest blood vessels). This fluid, called interstitial fluid, provides the nutrients and oxygen within it for the tissues as it flows throughout the body. It also picks up the waste products from the cells. Obviously, just like a car which uses gasoline to combust into kinetic energy to move it, it produces a waste product. In your cars case that waste product comes out your tail pipe.
Cells don’t have tail pipes, but they do have waste products as they break down (combust) fuel for energy. These waste products are exchanged into the interstitial fluid to be picked up in the bloodstream so it can be efficiently removed. But only about 90% of it is reabsorbed by the capillaries. The remaining 10% contains particles too large to pass through the capillary walls, so the lymphatic system swoops in and sucks it up, up and away (super hero reference, couldn’t help myself). With the transfer to a new system in the body, the fluid also gets a name change.
Now it is called lymph. Lymph is a watery fluid made up of lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell that is produced by the bone marrow, the thymus, and the lymph nodes. Lymphocytes identify diseases and other foreign material in the body and attack those cells it determines to be harmful. OK, so as lymph, the fluid filters through these lymph nodes, it is cleaned and then finishes its odyssey back where it started - in the bloodstream. This process is critical, as the pile-up of waste in the cells can kill them. Without a flowing lymph system, fluid builds up and the body is unable get rid of waste. The waste and fluid itself can cause tissues in the body to swell, painfully enlarged organs, or infections throughout the body. So, if your lymphatic system isn't working properly, it is unable to drain excess toxins and fluids from the body, causing problems such as swollen limbs, tonsillitis, lymphatic cancer, and other conditions. A working lymphatic system balances the body's fluids, absorbs fat into your system, and helps your body's immunological defense. Obviously, it is important, but if you aren’t using it right it can also be problematic to your health.
What else does the lymphatic system do?
A properly working lymphatic system is a great ally to have in boosting your immune system. The spleen removes dead cells and foreign invaders from the body. If you were lucky enough to keep your tonsils, these strategically placed lymph nodes provide a line of defense against possible throat infections. Adenoids are lymph nodes in the nasal cavity that minimize the effect of harmful pathogens entering the body.
But the lymphatic system is at a disadvantage. It lacks a large built-in pump like your cardiovascular system, which has the heart. To keep your lymph fluid from achieving the consistency of cottage cheese and causing your fingers to look like not-so-tiny sausages, you need to, wait for it… Move. Yep, the lymphatic system works because contracting muscles massage the system and that acts as its pump. Now let’s ask why many studies find that prolonged sitting is bad for your health. Got it? A lifestyle of transferring your butt from the car to the office chair, to the sofa in front of the TV decreases the flow of lymph fluid by 94%, consequently making it all but impossible to keep the body from turning toxic.
Now, this system of lymphatic circulation is also responsible for removal of fats from the digestive system, in the form of an opaque substance called chyle. Absorbed through the wall of the small intestine via lymph vessels known as lacteals, the chyle, which is made up of fatty acids and lymph, is transported back to the blood stream. The fats carried therein can then be utilized for energy or stored in the body as adipose tissue, or body fat. So lymph health is also important for fat utilization too.
The problem is that this is an open system with no pump like the heart. Because of this, lymphatic circulation occurs very slowly and is not continuous. Smooth muscle contractions in the walls of the lymph vessels and organs push the lymph along, a process known as peristalsis. In addition, the physical manipulation of skeletal muscle gets the lymph moving and thereby speed the removal of waste (and detoxification) from the body.
So what’s the best way to get your lymph moving? Whole Body Vibration Training (WBVT). First, there are a lot of vibration machines out there that don’t work. Many of these unscrupulous pushers will have you believe that their machines make you sweat a certain way only when you use their machines, or that their special form of vibration is the only form that causes lymphatic drain. So, first off, none of that is true!
Next, we know that the body uses its muscular contraction to massage the lymphatic system, so any strength training or cardiovascular exercise will accomplish that. Whole body vibration just does it to a higher intensity since you can make the muscles contract faster, and make more muscles contract at any one time. As I mentioned you need to stay away from certain types of vibration, that is, those that oscillate. In other words, if the platform rocks or tilts up and down, causing the pelvis to move up and down, then avoid it. Also avoid linear machines that go left to right only, these cannot create muscular contraction nor is there very much research on their effectiveness. We often see these manufacturers and advertisers using generic whole body vibration research which actually used tri-planar motion to sell their own products.
You need a tri-planar machine, or a machine that vibrates in three planes of motion, up/down, side to side and forward and back to get the full benefit of WBV. This type of vibration is only afforded by three manufacturers I am aware of; Power Plate, DH Fitness and 3G Cardio. We use tri-planar vibration at Revibe Fitness & Wellness.
Everyone knows that exercise is crucial, but there are others ways that also help your lymphatic system remove toxins and fight pathogens at peak performance. The more clean (preferably spring) water you drink, the more lymph you'll get flowing. Switching to a diet consisting of 80% fresh, raw, organic produce can do wonders for your lymph and health overall, because you are not taking in the toxic materials to begin with. Massage can also helps the lymphatic system flow.
The best way is to exercise. Exercise has many benefits and this adds just one more to the pile of health benefits you are missing if you are not exercising. Exercise is a critical part of a healthy lifestyle, and it can be a part of your life no matter what your age. In fact, staying active becomes increasingly important as you get older.
Even frail seniors of advanced age can improve muscle strength and agility with exercise, which is important for preventing falls and injuries. But one important factor about exercise that we often ignore is the idea that it helps move lymph throughout the body faster, keeping you healthier and less toxic. No matter how you slice it, that is one way that exercise helps you to stay disease free.