Exercise is a primary and vital component in managing swelling and edema in the body. The muscles in the body support the veins and the lymphatic vessels throughout the body, and the health of one’s heart can assist in blood flow. To learn more, check out this article about the benefits of exercise on lipedema, lymphedema, and venous insufficiency. In Part 1 of this piece, we learned that exercise and movement are vital treatments for the management of swelling and edema, and how exercise benefits each swelling and edema condition and how they may differ.
However, not all forms of exercise are made equal. In Part 2 of this piece, let’s dive into the most popular types of exercise, what is helpful for swelling, and what may not be.
Walking or Jogging
Walking is one of the most common forms of exercise. Activity doesn’t have to be complicated to benefit cardiovascular fitness, strength, and lymphatic health. It can stimulate the muscles in the body to support the lymphatic vessels and veins to keep fluid and blood moving. For most individuals, it is safe and gentle on the joints, making it a great option to improve swelling and edema in the body for all conditions.
Jogging is another form of exercise that is easy to get out and participate in. It provides even more cardiovascular and heart health than walking, increasing blood flow through the veins and lymphatic fluid through the lymphatic vessels.
Jogging may provide many benefits for lymphedema and vein issues that cause swelling. However, if an individual has more severe cases of either condition, with a leg or limb larger in size, jogging or walking for longer distances may place added strain on one’s body and back, leading to pain and soreness. Jogging may not be ideal for an individual with lipedema due to higher pain levels. Finding a low-impact exercise is best to avoid pain and put too much pressure on the joints.
Exercise in the water can come in various forms, including swimming, water walking, or water aerobics. Pool Exercises and swimming are among the top options for those with swelling and edema. Water creates a natural compression on the body. For every 12 inches (30 cm) deep of water, the water will give you 20-30mmHg pressure on your body. That’s the same amount as a basic compression garment! So, by walking in 3 feet of water, you will be provided an excellent level of compression on the legs to help support and reduce swelling. When we add the compression support of the water along with movement and activating the muscles with exercise, you get double the benefit, making it a form of exercise that is hard to beat for swelling.
Another benefit of pool exercises is that they take the pressure and strain off the joints. As explained in the Exercise’s Role in Edema article, for every 1lb. of weight on the body, it equals 4-6lbs. on your knees and joints, but the water can take up to 80% of one’s body weight off. This makes it a very comfortable exercise for those with lipedema and joint pain.
The main barrier to getting in the water for exercise is the need to take compression garments on and off. This can be time-consuming and difficult for some to do with a busy schedule, unable to get a quick workout in during the day. The pool may also be unsafe if an individual has any skin breakdown or ulcers, most seen with chronic venous insufficiency. Submerging damaged or open skin into the pool can worsen skin health and more fragile skin and slow the healing process. For skin concerns, it’s best to speak with your doctor about getting clearance before getting into a pool.
High-Intensity Interval Training
High-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, is becoming widely popular in mainstream exercise classes. It uses short timeframes, like 20-60 seconds, for higher intensity movements to rapidly increase the heart rate, followed by a short rest period. It is beneficial in improving cardiovascular health, increasing aerobic fitness, and lower body fat. It can be done with various equipment, such as a treadmill or stationary bike, or it can be done with body weight movements and strength exercises.
HIIT can be highly beneficial for swelling and edema to improve blood and lymphatic flow. It can lead to irritated joints and soreness if done incorrectly or in various forms. To avoid these side effects, it may be done in the pool or using equipment like a stationary bike which doesn’t place as much pressure on joints. One can try floating from pool noodles or use aqua belts in deeper water and use a cycling pattern with the legs.
This type of exercise is only ideal for some, especially those new to physical activity. Getting clearance from a doctor and working with a physical therapist or trainer who can safely monitor heart rate is the best way to begin.
Resistance training is used to help build muscle and strength in the muscles. Using weights or other objects, the muscle contracts against resistance. The body will respond with increased strength, power, and endurance when this is done repeatedly. There are various types of strength and resistance training, including:
- Weight machines
- Dumbbells or free weights
- Kettlebells or medicine balls
- Resistance bands
- One’s body weight
Strength training is necessary for those with lymphedema, lipedema, and venous swelling. The muscles play a crucial role in fluid movement and are the main driving force behind reducing edema congestion. One study examined the effects of resistance exercise for one year on individuals with breast cancer-related lymphedema. Compared to those who did not exercise, the individuals who stuck with the resistance exercise had less severe lymphedema symptoms and fewer flare-ups. Strength training has also been shown to support lymphedema prevention and may help avoid the progression of lymphedema severity.
Some health professionals explain that strenuous resistance training may place a lot of strain on the veins and venous system. Putting a significant amount of stress on the abdomen may impede blood flow from the legs back to the heart and lead to the blood pooling further in the legs. Due to this, it is best to wear compression stockings while doing strength training and work with a specialist for proper form and technique, with lower weights and higher repetitions.
Yoga is becoming more popular as a form of exercise and a way to improve blood and lymphatic flow. Studies have found yoga benefits those with lymphedema by improving their range of motion and quality of life. Although there are no research studies on the benefits of yoga on vein issues and lipedema swelling, it remains a light exercise that may support muscle activation and stay gentle on the joints.
Yoga involves breathing exercises, a primary component of decongestive therapy for the lymphatic system. There are many forms of yoga, including for all levels, but one to consider avoiding is hot yoga, as heat often increases swelling for those with lipedema and lymphedema.
Rebounding is an exercise that involves jumping and movements on a small mini-trampoline. It is an aerobic exercise that will increase one’s heart rate and strengthen muscles. Bouncing on the trampoline can stimulate the muscles in the legs and core to help provide a natural pump for the veins and lymphatic vessels for fluid and blood movement.
Although no studies have looked at the effectiveness of rebounding on swelling and edema, it is an effective form of cardiovascular exercise for overall health. Rebounding is gentler on the joints than running, but it will have more strain than yoga or swimming. Balance and safety also should be considered before starting rebounding. Some mini-trampolines have a handle to hold on to, which may provide a safer option for those looking to try them out.
There are plenty of forms of exercise that someone can participate in to stay healthy and help manage swelling and edema. Each individual should discuss options with their doctor or therapist to create a personalized exercise plan that is safe and effective for them. There are benefits to combining different types of exercise, but in the end, the most important thing to do is find something that you enjoy and can be consistent with for long-term health.
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