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Exercising and keeping physically active is an important way to manage and reduce lymphoedema.
It helps you feel better and maintain a healthy weight, and it reduces your risk of developing other health problems. It’s also a good way to reduce stress and anxiety.
Exercise can improve lymphoedema because it:
Gentle stretching exercises can help to reduce and control lymphoedema. Your lymphoedema specialist will explain the best exercises for you, and how many times a day you should do them. We describe some simple exercises to reduce arm and leg swelling at the end of this section.
Always wear your compression garment when you exercise. Try to include deep breathing| in any daily exercise routines to improve your circulation. Do your exercises gradually and regularly, as advised by your specialist, so that you build up a regular routine. Exercises for lymphoedema should be gentle and feel comfortable. The right amount of exercise or activity will vary from person to person.
Too much exercise too quickly may increase swelling. If you’re doing too much, your skin will become red, sticky and hot. Long periods of exercise and activity can also increase the swelling.
Carry on using your affected limb for all your normal activities. Keeping yourself physically active by doing things around the house or in the garden is also a helpful form of exercise.
Start gently with most activities and gradually increase the intensity. You may have to avoid some activities that place stress on the affected limb, for example moving heavy pieces of furniture with your affected arm.
It’s also important to break up long and busy days with times of resting with your limb supported. If your arm is affected, be careful not to carry anything too heavy. If you need to go shopping, use a trolley or, if you can, do your shopping online and have it delivered to avoid carrying heavy bags.
Having lymphoedema doesn’t mean that exercise can’t be a part of your life. Exercise has many benefits and we’ve mentioned some of these already. There are some types of exercise that you will need to take more care with, so always ask your lymphoedema specialist for advice and talk to your doctor before you start.
Get involved in the type of exercise| you enjoy and are more likely to stick with, and build it up gradually. Swimming, walking, stretching exercises and yoga are all good options. Swimming is particularly helpful if you have problems with your joints as it works the muscles without putting strain on the joints.
It’s important to talk to your lymphoedema specialist and your doctor before starting an exercise programme. If any type of exercise makes you breathless or uncomfortable, or seems to make the swelling worse, stop doing it and ask your specialist for advice.
Here are some simple exercises to reduce arm swelling:
For leg swelling, try sitting with your leg up, making sure it’s supported behind the knee.
Do the following exercises at regular intervals while you’re resting:
There are many other exercises that might help - your lymphoedema specialist can advise you. What’s right for you will depend on your level of fitness.
Content last reviewed: 1 March 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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