Detox Your Body With Exercise


The word ‘Detox’ is loosely used in health and fitness.  There are so many methods of detoxing the body via cleanses; diet, supplements, herbal treatments, fasts and juicing, colonics and current studies are demonstrating the effects of exercise as a viable detoxification method.

Let’s examine the true meaning of the word ‘Detox.’  In today’s society it is a fairly common word generally used in conjunction with weight loss or the holy- grail for numerous non-specific ailments. The clinical definition from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry defines detoxification as “the process of removing a poison or toxin or the effect of either from an area or individual.”  As stated in the Harvard Women’s Health Watch from Harvard Medical School, detox is typically a medical procedure performed in a hospital ridding the body of life threatening levels of drugs, poison or alcohol. 

This is very different from the current craze promoted to the health conscious public.  These detox procedures are performed by an individual with the intent to eliminate alleged toxins responsible for headache, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, depression and a variety of ailments, claiming to detoxify specific organs, systems or whole body cleanses.  Most of the detox products for this type of detox are sold over the counter, as opposed to prescription drugs and other therapies provided by a true clinical detox in a hospital.

Do Detox Practices Really Empty The Body of Toxins, Or Do They Only Empty Our Wallets?

To date there is no valid and reliable scientific data supporting "cleanses;" however, more and more studies are surfacing in support of exercise to assist the body in its natural detoxification process.

Most products claiming to ‘detox’ or ‘cleanse’ are really only capable of cleansing your wallet. Currently there is no published research to support the use of commercial ‘detox’ type products to assist the body in eliminating harmful toxins and waste.  Conversely, certain types of treatments, such as coffee enemas may be harmful to the body.

Unfortunately, these commercial detox products distract the consumer from the reality of how the body naturally detoxifies itself, and they give the impression that you can undo a poor lifestyle with these quick detox fixes.  Improved health is not found in supplement bottle or herbal preparation, but rather in the effort it takes to improve lifestyle choices via proper diet, exercise, sleep, smoking cessation and stress reduction.

So, What Is The Best Way To Detoxify The Body?

The body has an inherent detoxification system.  In other words, the skin, respiratory system, immune system, intestines, liver and kidneys detoxify the body naturally everyday. 

The Skin is the largest organ in the body and its main purpose is to provide a barrier against bacteria, viruses and toxins.  It is a one- way defense system; Toxins do not enter intact skin; however, toxins are not eliminated via sweating, as some believe.  The only thing eliminated in perspiration is sodium.

The Respiratory System. Tiny nasal hairs trap dirt and particles inhaled and some that make it to the lungs are expelled in mucous.

The Immune System is designed to recognize foreign substances and eliminate them from the body via the blood and lymph.

The Intestines.  The small intestines screen out parasites and foreign matter before nutrients are absorbed via lymph nodes.  The colon keeps toxins from accumulating.

The Liver is the body’s main filter.  It metabolizes nutrients, neutralizes metals, and produces enzymes that regulate the metabolism of drugs and defends against harmful chemicals and toxins.

The Kidneys are very efficient in filtering waste substances and eliminating them from the body; hence the reason why urine tests are used to screen for drugs and toxins as the kidney’s function is to filter waste and other substances.

What Can We Do To Support Our Body’s Natural Detoxification System?

Although the body naturally detoxifies, this process is supported and enhanced by certain lifestyle behaviors.  Moderating the amount of alcohol consumed, and eliminating the use of tobacco are a couple of ways to assist the body in its natural detoxification process.

Nutrition’s Role

In addition, certain foods can assist the liver in the daily detox.  Certain nutrients support this function, such as:

  • B-Vitamins, Folic Acid,
  • Flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables,
  • Foods such as carrots, oranges, almonds and wheat germ rich in Vitamins A, C and E,
  • Foods such as avocado, watermelon, asparagus and walnuts all contain Glutathione, helpful in assisting the liver in driving away toxins
  • Amino Acids found in animal meat, dairy products and whey protein
  • Phospholipids found in eggs, lean meats, fish and soybeans
  • Fish Oil and lots of fiber assist in detoxing naturally
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts contain Inole-3-Carbinol, also helpful to the liver
  • Healthy fats from fish, seeds and nuts
  • Green tea cleanses and protects the liver
  • 64oz. water per day assists in the detox process

Multiple studies have demonstrated the efficacy of these nutrients in supporting the liver during daily detoxification. Also, be sure to avoid sugar and limit alcohol.

Impact of Exercise on the Natural Detoxification Process

Can exercise detox the body?  Exercise alone will not cause the body to detoxify; however, studies and scientific data show that exercise assists the lungs, kidneys, immune system and intestines in becoming more efficient at naturally detoxifying the body.  It further enhances the body to do what it is meant to do, protect us at all cost.  Exercise keeps our body moving, increasing blood circulation and the uptake of oxygen, enhancing the body’s detoxification process.

There is no one specific exercise that is recommended although some jumping type of movements and Yoga twists have claimed to enhance the process.  Here are the claims for jumping and yoga:

  • The up and down motion of jumping compresses and decompresses tissues and fluids causing toxins to be squeezed out of tissues as lymph fluid is pushed through the body. 
  • A spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise states the theory behind ‘detoxifying yoga twists’ is that these twists squeeze organs, pushing blood out and allowing fresh blood to rush in causing better circulation and better health.  Similarly, deep yogic breathing with strong exhalation empties lungs of unneeded carbon dioxide and allow for more oxygenated airflow nourishing all of the cells.  Exercise and meditation also assist in emotionally detoxifying a huge part of the whole process.

There is currently no scientific data to support the claims of jumping type of exercise or yoga twists.  There is evidence however; supporting the claim that exercise in general will assist the body’s natural detoxification process in becoming more effective and efficient.

It is recommended to find a type of exercise you enjoy so you will sustain the activity over time.  

An interesting study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden discovered that exercise rids the blood of a substance that accumulates during stress.  We already are aware that exercise releases endorphins creating a more positive attitude post exercise; however, it appears based on this study that the muscles act like the liver and kidneys during exercise and produce an enzyme that clears the body of a substance linked to depression and mental illness.  So, well -trained muscles eliminate harmful substances reminiscent of the function of the liver and kidneys.  The study concludes that cardiovascular exercise most likely has the most positive impact on mood and stress.  This is not to say that resistance training does not have the same effect; the study mainly used aerobic exercise with the subjects.  The study also concludes that skeletal muscle appears to have a detox effect that may protect the brain from mental illness.  In addition, this study demonstrates why people that do not exercise feel sluggish, depressed and are at higher risk for disease.

The Bottom Line

The human body is equipped to defend against environmental toxins and moderate indulgences.  Keeping your body healthy is key in helping it maintain its self-cleaning system.  A healthy diet, water, sleep and exercise are beneficial in assisting the body in naturally detoxifying.  If you feel tired, need to lose weight or feel the need to detox or spring clean your body, visit a physician first before considering a detox diet.  Certain types of detox diets might result in nutrient deficiencies.  Colon cleansing may cause vomiting and dehydration.  Most detox diets are not long-term solutions to weight loss or any other malady they are toted for.  If you choose a detox diet to assist in lifestyle changes, employ the services of a professional to assist you and guide you safely.

In conclusion, eat a healthy diet of whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and beans, nuts and seeds, and incorporate exercise daily to further enhance the body’s natural defense mechanisms and detoxification process.  In addition, minimize the use of chemical – based household cleaners and substitute typical toothpaste, deodorant, shampoos and soaps with natural alternatives to further assist our body’s organs in detoxing naturally.


Marianne E. Morano, M.S., ACSM, CWC serves on Cancer Schmancer's Medical Advisory Board. She is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and the CEO and Founder of Fit or WHAT, Inc. Her mission is to empower clients and the community to achieve their personal best through healthy lifestyle programs, creating longevity and quality of life.