There is much we can do to improve our own immune systems. Many of us are having to work from home with perhaps not an ideal work set up, and it is something which is important to address for our health. As we all do our best to try and avoid COVID-19, there is a great deal we can do to prepare our bodies in case of infection. If we can get our immune system working to the best of its ability, we have a better chance of withstanding any infection.
A big component of our immune system is our lymphatics. This is a system of vessels within our bodies which act as a kind of ‘back-up’ to our cardiovascular system. The liquid they contain is called lymph which is a colourless fluid containing white blood cells. It is a system which is highly dependent on movement.
Your immune system – the technical bit
The lymphatic system manages fluid within our bodies. The vessels collect lymphatic fluid which has been supplying nutrition to our cells. It transports it back into the blood system, via the two lymphatic ducts behind the clavicle. This amounts to 1/5 of all our fluid, which is about 3-4 litres a day, and basically prevents us from puffing up.
The lymph vessels pass through a series of ‘check points’, a bit like when you go on holiday and have to pass through a passport control. These points are known as lymph nodes, and any ‘foreign bodies’ which are found here get identified and tagged. This then allows for them to be killed off by white bllod cells. It is a very efficient system as long as there are no blockages or stagnant areas which prevent the free flow of the lymph.
Unlike the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system has nothing to ‘pump’ the fluid around the vessels. There is no equivalent to the heart. It relies solely on a person’s movement to pump it up the length of the body.
How to boost your lymphatics
Your lymphatics may be blocked if you are feeling ‘stuck’ or sluggish. Slow healing wounds, dull skin, dehydrated skin, acne, ‘puffy’, areas of odema all indicate blocked lymphatics.
- Try to avoid too much sitting down. This will lead to stagnantation and ultimately adversely impact on your immune system. Long periods of being in a sitting position can lead to muscular tightness in your hip flexors and behind your knees. Both are epicentre areas of very dense lymph nodes. Any muscular restrictions in these areas can prevent the flow of your lymph passing through the checkpoint nodes easily. This then impacts on the efficiency of your immune system.
- Posture: think about your posture. Are you slumped over your laptop for hours on end? When you slump, you are constricting the pathways within your lymphatics. You are compressing your abdomen and your chest, potentially creating restrictions which will prevent the free passage of your lymph. Muscular restrictions in your neck and shoulders, often with a forward head posture, will make it difficult for the lymph to move well.
- Breathe correctly. If you your breath and don’t allow your diaphragm to move well, the movement of your lymph will be in danger of stagnating. The lymph vessels travel up through your diaphragm. As you breathe in, there is a drop in pressure in the thorax and an increase in pressure in your abdomen. This effectively ‘sucks up’ the lymph in the desired direction. Once again, if you adopt a ‘slumped’ posture, it is pretty much impossible to breathe using your diaphragm. Breathing is the therapy you can do everywhere and it’s free.
- Move your body. Skeletal muscle contractions will move the lymph. An increase in your heart rate will move your lymph. Moderate exercise and keeping relatively fit will help your stress levels and immunity.
- Eat sensibly. The natural massaging movement of peristalsis through your gut as your food is digested is also a movement which pushes the lymph around your body. A good diet with reducing any processed foods will help the movement of digestion.
- Manual therapy can help. If you already have muscular restrictions or postural tightness, then deep tissue massage can help with reducing restrictions and ensuring better mobility. Any kind of manual therapy can aid the passage of lymph and help to increase your immunity.
Our immunity is greatly affected by our day to day activities. In order to keep it functioning the best it can, we need to move on a regular basis, keep as fit and flexible as possible, breathe correctly and eat well. These are all areas to bear in mind as many of us adapt to a different working environment.