Cleaning out toxic clutter: that’s one requisite for your body to “focus” on functioning properly. Your lymphatic system is made up of millions of vessels that gather excess water, protein, cells and unusable stuff (often called toxins). This fluid, simply referred to as lymph, passes through lymph nodes, which process and filter the proteins, cells and toxins. Further processing happens in organs and tissues such as the spleen, thymus, adenoids and tonsils.

This filtration and processing is also critical to the healthy function of the immune system. Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that develops in the bone marrow, destroy foreign cells, particles and substances that invade the body. The lymphatic system moves lymphocytes between our bone marrow, lymph fluid and blood.

Lymph needs you

Healthy lymph circulation relies on movement. Muscle contractions squeeze lymph along the vessels. Moving also elevates the heart rate, pumping more blood, which in turn gets all other fluids in the body moving.

An elevated heart rate also increases our breathing and makes us sweat — two ways the lymph system expels toxins. This kicks into high gear when we’re feeling yucky. No workout can generate the kind of sweats that come with food poisoning or the stomach flu. We really do “sweat it out.”

Get on up

Movements that start in a ground-based position and end in a standing position help the lymphatic system function at its best. In particular, movements that bring the feet closer to the hips provide the best pump. These “ground to standing” movements (a term coined by the preventative health group Institute of Motion) have a whole host of benefits:

  • The bent-to-stretched body positions move fluid around the body and also improve range of motion in our feet, ankles, hips and shoulders.
  • Changing positions within the field of gravity improves overall circulation.
  • Starting on the ground puts pressure on the body where we contact the ground, moving fluids.
  • These movements increase heart rate, blood circulation and movement of all fluids.
  • We breathe and sweat harder, expelling more wastes.

Try these at home (or at the office, the gym, school, etc.)

Hands and feet to standing (beginner movement)

  • Start in a hands and knees “all fours” position with toes tucked under.
  • Press into the floor with your hands and toes to lift your knees off the ground a little.
  • Walk your hands back toward your feet until you are in a deep squat, and then stand up.
  • Squat back down, and walk your hands back out to the starting position.
  • Work your way up to two sets of 10 repetitions. This movement is a solid addition to the warm-up or prep block of any workout.

Plank step to standing (intermediate movement)

  • Start in a plank position with your hands below your shoulders and your toes tucked under.
  • Step your left foot beside (or just behind) your left hand.
  • Stand up, bringing up your right foot to meet your left.
  • Return to the start position, and repeat on the other side.
  • As part of a warm-up or prep, try five to 10 reps on each side.

Kneeling toe roll to standing (advanced movement)

  • Start in a kneeling position with your toes tucked under.
  • Use your hips to shift your weight back onto your toes, and roll into a deep squat.
  • Stand up out of the squat, and return to the start position.
  • Try five to 10 reps as part of a prep block or a mobility workout.