Improve circulation to give your immune system a boost

What’s the link between immune health and the circulatory system?

S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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05 November 2020

How does good circulation help the immune system?

To get to grips with how circulation helps the immune system, we must first know a little about another part of the body – the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system consists of tissues and organs that extend throughout the body. The role of the lymphatic system is to get rid of waste and unwanted materials, which it transports in something called lymph. This is a fluid that also contains white blood cells which are crucial to fighting infection. If bacteria are detected in the lymph, lymph nodes produce more white blood cells to help deal with the invaders.

Did you know?

There are two types of white blood cell found in the lymphatic system:

  • Phagocytes – these ingest and digest damaged cells and bacteria.
  • Lymphocytes – these make antibodies to combat disease.

Lymph is able to move via contractions of the muscle in lymph vessels, but it is also aided by movement more generally, the ebb and flow of breath and the pressure from pulsating arteries.

Therefore, if circulation is hindered in any way, be it due to lifestyle factors or otherwise, this may lead to lymphatic stagnation. Not only does this reduce the flow of infection-fighting white blood cells, but it can also lead to additional symptoms. These include swollen lymph glands (particularly around the underarms, neck and groin where lymph nodes are concentrated), skin breakouts, mucus congestion and fatigue.

So, there's more than one reason to keep your circulation in top form!

Ways to improve circulation in the body

To improve the flow of infection-fighting white blood cells, there are a few things we can do.

1. Breathing exercises – these can help to dilate the blood vessels, thus improving circulation. Try breathing in for a count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four and then hold for four again. Repeat this until one minute has passed. This might be a nice exercise to practise in bed at night.

2. Rebounding – this aerobic exercise involves using a mini trampoline to do various jumps. You can practise this at a local gym, in an exercise class or purchase your own trampoline and give it a go at home.

3. Stepping – a mini-stepper is a more sedate way of improving circulation, and you can use it whilst watching a film, or even whilst reading.

4. Decrease sugar intake – too much sugar can hinder blood flow and the function of blood vessels. Choose fruit for a sweet treat and limit your intake of sugary juice.

My self-care tip: Try skipping to boost circulation

Check out this video for advice on a circulation-boosting exercise!

5. Skin brushing – stimulate circulation by using a skin brush. These can be bought online for as little as £3! Just rub the skin in circular motions with the brush. It's usually best to do this before you shower so that you can wash away all the dead skin cells afterwards. Always brush towards the heart, and avoid any sensitive areas.

6. Massage – you can opt to book yourself in for a luxurious massage or simply massage your feet and legs whilst curled up on the sofa at night or whilst relaxing in the bath.

7. Hot and cold showers – alternate between a hot and cold shower to get the circulatory system working a little bit harder. Cold water constricts blood vessels on the surface of the skin so blood must travel to tissues deeper in the body, causing them to dilate.

My Top Tip:

The herb Ginkgo is another way to support your circulation. Strengthening arterial circulation can also have a knock-on effect on lymphatic circulation.

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8. Stretching – this is another easy exercise to improve circulation. Check out my blog 'Easy exercises to do at your desk' for stretches you can incorporate into your daily routine.

9. Muscle squeezing – exercises that focus on muscle squeezing include squats, push-ups and 'boxercise'. Our Get Active videos can provide guidance on some of these.

10. Increase water intake – choose warm water as this encourages the blood vessels to expand, whilst cold water causes the opposite. Read more about how water helps circulation here.

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