Nutrition & Exercise Tips for Managing Lymphedema

Surviving breast cancer comes with an array of challenges, and one of the most common complications is lymphedema. This condition, characterized by swelling in the arms or legs due to fluid buildup, can be a persistent reminder of the battle we've fought and the ongoing side effects we are forced to endure. Managing lymphedema requires a holistic approach that addresses both physical and lifestyle choices. Through massage, skincare, regular exercise and nourishing our body with wholesome foods, we can take proactive steps towards mitigating symptoms and reclaiming our sense of vitality. Here are some nutrition and movement tips to help manage lymphedema. 

Nutrition Tips: 

Hydrate: Adequate hydration is key for maintaining healthy lymphatic function. Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day to support the body's natural detoxification processes and reduce fluid retention.

Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into our diet can help alleviate swelling and discomfort associated with lymphedema. Focus on consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flaxseeds and walnuts.

Limited Salt Intake: Excess sodium can contribute to fluid retention, exacerbating lymphedema symptoms. Be mindful of our salt intake and opt for fresh, whole foods instead of processed or packaged items, which tend to be high in sodium.

Herbal Remedies: Certain herbs and spices, such as turmeric, ginger and parsley, possess natural diuretic properties that may help reduce swelling. Consider incorporating these ingredients into our meals or enjoying them as teas to support lymphatic drainage.

Exercise Tips: 

Start Slowly: Physical activity is important for managing lymphedema, as it works our muscles, which encourages lymph fluid to move through the lymphatic system. Yet if we're new to exercise or experiencing strength or mobility limitations, it's important to ease into physical activity gradually. Begin with gentle movements such as walking, swimming, pilates or yoga, and gradually increase the intensity as our strength and confidence grow.

Focus on Range of Motion: Incorporating exercises that promote flexibility and range of motion in the affected limbs can help improve lymphatic circulation and reduce swelling. Gentle stretching and yoga poses can be particularly beneficial.

Incorporate Strength Training: Building muscle strength in the arms and shoulders can help support lymphatic drainage and reduce the risk of fluid buildup. Incorporate light resistance training exercises using resistance bands or light weights, focusing on controlled movements and proper form.

Listen to Our Body: Pay attention to how our body responds to exercise and adjust our routine accordingly. If we experience pain, discomfort or increased swelling, its critical to scale back the intensity or try alternative activities that are better suited for our body.

Lymphedema is a lifetime risk for any of us who have had lymph nodes removed during surgery, and this risk increases with the extent of nodes taken. For some of us, avoiding lymphedema may be impossible, requiring further measures such as manual drainage, the use of compression garments or even surgery. However, keeping these tips top of mind will only benefit our experience and lifestyles in general. As always, it's important to consult a medical professional if we suspect any symptoms of lymphedema. 

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." - Benjamin Franklin