The Lymph System and the Air That We Breathe

Today, we have a very special guest post from my fellow North Carolinian and T-Tapp Trainer, Georgia Simonson! She lives in Statesville, NC and is very knowledgeable in the areas of health and fitness. Not only is she a Certified T-Tapp Trainer, she is also an ACE Certified Personal Trainer! I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I did! 

There are 11 Organ Systems in the human body. They all function together to maintain a beautiful state of equilibrium called Homeostasis. However, three of the systems seem to interact more closely, and for us T-Tappers one has becomes synonymous with the workout itself. I’m speaking of the lymphatic system and its reliance on the circulatory and respiratory system.

Thoracic Lymphatic System

Thoracic Lymphatic System

In the circulatory system arteries, arterioles, capillaries, venules and veins carry and return blood with its many components to and from the heart and lungs. Excess fluids in the capillaries leak out, and a watery solvent called Interstitial Fluid pools in these areas. This fluid contains the waste products from the cells that the blood picks up. It contains sugars, salts, fatty and amino acids, hormones, neurotransmitters and white blood cells. Most interstitial fluid returns in the blood via the circulatory system, but about 10% is collected by the lymph vessels and enters the lymphatic system. Once it is processed in the lymphatic system this newly structured fluid is put back into the blood stream as Enhanced Lymphatic Fluid via the subclavian vein near the neck and right shoulder.

The key words above are enhanced lymphatic fluid. That’s our goal! To return clean fluid with all of its disease fighting properties back to the body. So, where there are blood vessels circulating to organs and tissues, you will find lymph tissue, vessels and nodes closely beside them aiding in fluid balance, fat absorption and in immunological defense mechanisms of the body. Your lymph cleans, balances and fights for you.

Lymphatic system and its interaction with the circulatory system

Lymphatic system and its interaction with the circulatory system

While the circulatory system has the involuntary muscle contraction of the heart and the smooth muscle of the vessels to pump the blood, the lymphatic system must rely on voluntary contractions of the skeletal muscles and the smooth muscles of the lymph vessels to squeeze the lymph. Another odd way for lymph to move is the pressure variance created when we breathe. This is where the respiratory system come in. Liquids flows from a point of high pressure to low pressure, so does your lymph. When we take a breath the volume of air in the lungs increases, but the pressure inside the lungs, also called Intrapulmonary Pressure, decreases. This pressure along with other negative pressures between the lungs and thoracic cavity aid in the movement of the lymph. More on that later.

Shallow breathing is not the lymphatic system’s friend. Now, how many of you don’t really give it your all when Teresa Tapp says, “Inhale…Exhale”? I’m brought to a newer lever of appreciation at this simple cue especially during the second part of Primary Back Stretch. She instructs us to do this no less than four times in one minute! Another bonus move for the lymph while breathing is the “shoulder hunch and inhale” movements. While found throughout all of the T-Tapp workouts, it is a core part of the First Steps Fascia Fitness and Turn Back Time workouts. Rib expansion aids in lung volume and easy of breathing. By hunching your shoulder to the ears you are elevating the ribs, clavicle and scapula upward creating pressure variances making it easier to get a superior and quick inhale into the lungs.

This air phenomenon happens naturally in the body. Atmospheric pressure outside the body is constant…it rarely changes. As we inhale, intrapulmonary pressure falls below atmospheric pressure, allowing the air to take that path of least resistance and easily fill the lungs. The diaphragm contracts, pressing downward and allowing even more space for the lungs. The opposite happens during exhalation. The diaphragm expands, pushing upward on the lungs. Pressures now are greater in the lungs, and the air goes out easily following its natural course to the lower pressure of the surrounding atmosphere.

But there are two more pressures to learn about. They are called the Intrapleural Pressure and Transpulmonary Pressure and both deal with negative pressures in the body. Intrapleural pressure works between the lungs and the thoracic cavity with negative pressure to keep the lungs near the chest wall and expanded...very important! There is a whole fascinating world of elastic response with the thoracic area and the ribs that I’m not going to get into. Just realize the body is “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made”. Transpulmonary Pressure is part of the deep filling of the lungs to reach the air sacs or alveoli, and it works in a negative pressure to saturate the large surface area of the alveoli. All these pressures work together to create resistance and pressure for the lymph to move.

There’s more to come about the lymphatic system. I felt this was a nice practical place to start. I had no idea that breathing stimulated the lymphatic system! So, next time you get a cue to hunch, inhale and exhale, you’ll hopefully think of the air that you breathe and that someone truly does love your health and her name is Teresa Tapp!