Don’t Let Your Lymph Loaf

Lymph (v.): To walk with a lisp.
— Anderson’s Afflictionary.

Did you know you have two circulatory systems? Sure, the blood gets all the attention (it’s red!), but the other system is just as important. It’s called the lymphatic system, and if you’re like me, you Googled it to remember what it does. Turns out, it does triple duty: it sponges fluid out of your tissues, sucks up fats and vitamins from your gut and battles infection. Take that, blood! However, in a fit of frugality, Mother Nature neglected to provide a lymph pump. There is no equivalent of a heart to keep your lymph flowing. And limp lymph is not good.

Mummy walks

It’s been a while since I last walked.

But nature is not without her tricks. The lymphatic vessels are lined with one-way valves. When they are squeezed, the lymph has no choice but to squirt in a single direction. It all gets forced up to the neck, where it dumps into the blood system. The squeezing is provided courtesy of your skeletal muscles. Unfortunately for the professional sitters among us (no chair left behind), that means you need to move.

Worse, there’s a double whammy for those of us trying to squeeze into last year’s pants: tight-fitting clothes constrict your lymph. The sad truth is that we need to get our padded butts out of our padded chairs and shake our booty a bit – or we will slowly poison ourselves.

Move that lymph!

If you’re just starting a diet, I don’t recommend anything strenuous. If you’re really out of shape, you may want to start by exercising your imagination or jogging your memory. I started by pumping irony. Then, perhaps, work up to water exercises (waterbeds count), where it doesn’t hurt so much when you fall. Don’t overdo it. If you injure yourself, you can set your program back by weeks (or as long as you can milk it). Walking is perfect. It’s like going to the kitchen, only you keep going. Slow and steady wins this race. But get started as soon as possible – even five minutes of walking can give some oomph to your lymph.

I know it’s hard to believe, but walking is liberating, once you get over the noise. My knees pop, my ankles chirp and my hips lay down a unifying bass line. I sound like a calypso band coming down the street.

A good pair of ear-buds is useful to drown this out, and loud dance music helps to put a little bump into my grind. But the result is a 250 pound man waddling erratically down the street with a distinct lack of dance mojo. The neighbors seem delighted, as they always come out to watch, some with video cameras. You’d think they would have something more productive to do.

I may be portly, but I’m no coward. I’m prepared for the neighborly gawking. At this point in my exercise routine, I’m not exactly stealthy. But I’m moving, damn it, and that’s supposed to be a good thing.

Under interrogation, I might admit to liking it a bit. Sometimes, when I’m sitting on my ass trying to squeeze out an article like this, I get a mental vapor lock. And that’s when I think: why don’t I get a real job? No, wait, that’s when I think I should take a walk. You can’t always get rid of a brain bubble, but sometimes you can jostle it somewhere else (where are my keys?) and then I can return to my trusty office chair and continue with renewed vigor and only a little heavy breathing.

Watch your step!

I would like to impart some hard-won knowledge gleaned from the mean streets of suburbia. If you are somewhat nearsighted like I am, be wary of gifts left by the neighborhood dogs. I love dogs, and as gratifying as it is to see their owners scamper after them with baggies, it can be hit or miss. Not all these butt butlers are equally fastidious, and not all poops get scooped, so beware.

If you can’t find a nice day, take your walk to the mall. Candyce, my distressingly perky wife, tells me that there is no excuse for skipping a walk. I suppose she’s right, although I’m increasingly suspicious of her motives for getting me to the mall. At least our wallets are losing weight.

Unless your doctor forbids it, walking is good at any age. Studies have repeatedly shown that people can add muscle tone no matter how old they are. Researchers have seen remarkable results even in people past 90 – an age my kids think I am fast approaching. Haha, kids are so damn funny. I can’t wait for school to start.

If you manage to sprout a new muscle here or there, you may start to burn calories faster, but don’t expect exercise to be a weight-loss panacea. Your body does an amazing job of ensuring that you eat more the instant you start to burn more. You can try to resist it, but the force is strong with this one. Yes, everyone thinks you can lose weight with diet and exercise, but everyone also thought banks in 2008 were pretty solid.

Easy does it

Wrinkled Shar Pei

Should have paced myself.

I remain skeptical that walking will help you drop poundage. But if you’re dieting and dropping fat, you might as well stuff a few muscles into those hollow spots. Otherwise, you’ll end up looking like my favorite droopy dog, the Shar-Pei. You’ll run out of body before you run out of skin.

On the other hand, exercise can change your metabolism, which might affect your weight setpoint. That’s the point your body has selected as your ideal weight, without ever consulting you. My life of dissolute junkfood consumption has slowly and insidiously pushed my setpoint up over the years. It’s hard to push it back down. If you’ve tried to diet and you hit a plateau, exercise may be just what you need to get over the hump.

Finally, if you can ambulate outside, you may even pick up some vitamin D from the sun. Walking is good on so many levels, I’m surprised it’s still legal. None other than Thomas Jefferson said that walking is the very best exercise. That even makes it patriotic!

As horrible as it sounds, I’ll probably end up exercising for the rest of my life, just to keep my lymph limber. Worse yet, I’ll probably live longer, simply prolonging the humiliation. Well, hell, no one ever said this would be a cake walk.


Yoffey JM, Courtice FC. Lymphatics, lymph and the lymphomyeloid complex. Academic Press, 1970, ISBN: 0127720502.

Rippe JM, Ward A, Porcari JP, Freedson PS. “Walking for Health and Fitness.” JAMA. 1988;259(18):2720-2724. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720180046031.

Shepherd JT. Circulatory response to exercise in health. Circulation. 1987 Dec;76(6 Pt 2):VI3-10.

Weinsier RL, Nagy TR, Hunter GR, Darnell BE, Hensrud DD, Weiss HL. “Do adaptive changes in metabolic rate favor weight regain in weight-reduced individuals? An examination of the set-point theory.” Am J Clin Nutr. November 2000 vol. 72 no. 5 1088-1094.

Sipilä, S., J. Multanen, M. Kallinen, P. Era, and H. Suominen. “Effects of Strength and Endurance Training on Isometric Muscle Strength and Walking Speed in Elderly Women.” Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 156, no. 4 (1996): 457–464. doi:10.1046/j.1365-201X.1996.461177000.x.

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