The Benefits of Aqua Cycling for Lower Limb Lymphedema

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Aqua Cycling is making waves in the fitness world and is fast becoming a fitness phenomenon thanks its incredible health benefits. Inspired by the same principals as aqua aerobics, aqua cycling (or aqua spinning as it’s also called) involves pedalling on a stationary bicycle frame which is submerged in a pool of water. It combines intense cycling with arm and chest exercises (with or without light dumbbells) in an aquatic environment, resulting in a high calorie burning, toxin eliminating workout!

Studies show that water resistance and movement impact on the deep leg muscles – called postural muscles – generates a natural massage that helps drain the entire lymphatic system. Land based exercises don’t give the same type of resistance and can even increase swelling due to the impact on joints and muscles. The massage you’re getting from water during an aqua cycle session also helps to improve blood circulation, burn calories and builds strength.

1Hydrostatic pressure: A Lymphies best friend!

When an individual is submerged in water he or she is subjected to hydrostatic pressure, which is the pressure that water, or any other fluid, exerts on itself¹. Because water is denser than air, it exerts more pressure on our bodies when we are submerged in it. It compresses your skin, muscles, and joints and has two main effects on the body: 1) it pushes fluids from the extremities, through the venous and lymphatic systems towards the central cavity: which means blood circulation is increased; and 2) the heart and lungs need to work harder because the chest cavity is more compressed, increasing the work of deep breathing.

This is great news for people who live with edema or Lymphedema! Water acts like a compression garment for the entire body and deepens muscle pumps, which stimulate the drainage of the limbs. The deep breathing bought on by the water pressure on the chest stimulates pumping in the thoracic duct, the largest of the two lymph ducts of the lymphatic system². As the lungs move from inhaling to exhaling, there is a switch in intra-abdominal pressure. This creates a vacuum like effect and moves sluggish lymph fluid up the Thoracic Duct and out into the venous system. Proper breathing is the key component of proper lymphatic function and is made easier in an aquatic environment.

2Assists in lymphatic drainage of the legs

Photo source: www.hydroriderusa.com

Aqua cycling is now a go-to rehabilitation technique to treat Lymphedema in many thermal cure centres around Europe, due to its high effectiveness in treating lower limb lymphedema. Our bodies are lighter in water, but our muscles work even harder to push back the weight of water. The resistance of the water results in a massage like effect, similar to that of a manual lymphatic drainage that you would have done with a therapist. The combination of water pressure and deep muscle movements that occur when pedalling are what helps boost the circulation of lymph.

Buoyancy is also a contributing factor which assists in venous return and elimination of lymph fluid from the body. When we are on land, the downward force of gravity pushes blood and lymph towards our feet. When in water, the up-ward thrust of buoyancy counteracts the downward pull of gravity, making it easier for blood to return to the heart and lymph fluid to flush out through the venous system³.

3A challenging low-impact workout

Water’s zero-gravity-feeling is perfect for people who suffer from muscular or joint problems or are overweight. Water supports 90 percent of the body’s weight and acts as a counterbalance to the force of gravity. Its buoyancy significantly reduces the amount of shock transmitted through your joints, ligaments and bones, compared to land based exercising. This can alleviate pain and discomfort and help avoid any additional swelling in the limbs. For those who have particularly large Lymphedematous limbs, aqua cycling can help you accomplish more in the water than you can on land.

4Burns calories and decreases body fat

Aqua cycling, like all exercise, assists in increasing the body’s metabolic rate- the speed at which your body burns calories. Since water has a greater resistance than air, your body is forced to work harder and therefore burns more calories than you might with land based exercises. It’s actually possible to burn up to 800 calories over an hour of pedalling an aqua bike! This can lead to a reduction in body fat which is extremely important when it comes to Lymphedema. It’s been shown that reducing body fat helps improve circulation in your lymphatic system and reduces the symptoms of LE in the legs.

5Suitable for all fitness levels and body types

The great thing about aqua cycling is that it’s accessible to anyone, even people with reduced movement skills (overweight, age, joint problems) or who have a low level of fitness. The intensity of sessions ultimately depends on how hard you pedal, so you can go at a leisurely rate or challenge yourself with intense interval training.

6Lymphie arms can also benefit from aqua cycling

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Aqua cycling classes also incorporate arm exercises to make the biceps and triceps work. This ranges from lifting light weights, making special circular movements underwater and doing paddling movements to create resistance. This leads to muscle growth and increased strength- which are important factors in promoting a healthy lymphatic flow. Depending on the bikes position in the water, you will either have your arms fully submerged or slightly out of the water- it’s entirely up to you and what your body feels comfortable doing.

7Do I have to wear my compression garments when doing aqua cycling?

Thanks to hydrostatic pressure, it’s possible to exercise without compression garments, but just make sure your legs are submerged in the water for most of the time. Some therapists might recommend that arm lymphedema patients wear a sleeve if their arms are outside of the water for long periods at a time (just wear an old one, because the chlorine will attack the material!).

Today, most aquatic centres and fitness rooms are equipped with aqua bikes and offer group workout classes. Some fitness centres even offer simple bike rentals, so you can cycle at your own pace and at any time.

Dive into aqua biking today and take advantage of the many benefits of the aquatic environment for Lymphedema!

 

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4327375/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thoracic_duct

[3] Aqua for Balance: http://aqua4balance.com/healing-properties-of-water/buoyancy-in-water.html

Hyrdorider USA Website 

ARTICLE: 10 reasons to cycle underwater.

VIDEO (in french): Aquabiking Performance!

 

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