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Cooling down after exercising – the why and how

We’ve all been there. An hour in the busy schedule to fit in an exercise class or run. Sixty minutes later and you feel good, sweat still dripping and endorphins buzzing nicely. A short while later, the story is not so great. A touch of light-headedness, a little muscle soreness, and a few aches that you don’t remember having before?

We all know about the benefits and exhilaration that come from that great work-out session or run. Most of us know about why we should warm up before we start exercising, but what about the benefits of a post-exercise cool down?

Why cool down after exercising?

Cooling down after a class or run is often overlooked. It’s the Cinderella of exercising, but it really shouldn’t be. Immediately after you exercise, your heart will be beating faster than normal, body temperature is higher, and your blood vessels are dilated. Your muscles are likely to have a build-up of lactic acid too.

Whereas warming up beforehand prepares your body for the exertion ahead, cooling down helps take your body and mind safely back to those pre-exercise levels. So, what are the key benefits that a cooling down session delivers?

3 benefits of cooling down

1. Lowering your heart rate and blood pressure

Whilst you are exercising, your heart rate increases and your heart pumps more blood around your body to better support your muscles, which are working much harder than usual. When you finish exercising, your muscles need less blood, and your heart rate lowers back to a normal baseline. If that process happens too suddenly, the result can be light-headedness or even fainting.

A simple five-minute cooling down process, where you gradually reduce the intensity of your exercise and the blood demand of your muscle groups, will help your heart rate and blood pressure reduce inline with your body’s requirement.

2. Slowing your breathing

As well as your heart rate increasing, your breathing becomes faster and deeper during exercise. The additional oxygen this gives your body is useful when you are mid-sprint, not so much when you have finished. A cool down period allows your breathing to gradually return to the same rhythm it had before you started your workout. Simple slow, deep breathing exercises can really help.

3. Relaxing your mind

It’s well known that exercising is good for the body and soul! The mental health benefits are proven. As your body cools down, focus your mind on the exercise you have just done. What have you accomplished? How has it helped your fitness goals? The cooling down period provides an opportunity for contemplation and reflection, whilst allowing your body to recover and normalise.

How to cool down

Cooling down is the simple process of gently exercising, at a far less strenuous pace than the main session you have just completed. A cooling down session takes no longer than five minutes.

Walking is a really good way to cool down, so if you are a runner, why not walk, rather than run those last few hundred metres? Breathe slowly and deeply as you walk, to help get your heartrate down, closer to your normal resting level. If your run has been at a good pace, you may need a few minutes of slower paced running before you transition to the walk.

If you have any muscle stiffness, slowly move and manipulate them. A simple upper-body stretch can help relax your spine and shoulder muscles. Starting in a standing or seated position, interlock your fingers and push your palms up toward the ceiling, then bring your hands up and back as far as you can, maintaining a straight spine.

An even simpler cool-down exercise is the body shake! Gently take it in turns to shake your arms, then each leg, for about fifteen seconds. This can help remove some of the lactic acid build up and reduce muscle soreness

If you have any favourite post-exercise stretches, the cooling down period is the time to do them, whilst your muscles are still warm.

Cooling down is good for you!

A five-minute post-exercise cooling routine is good for you and helps with your fitness and health goals. It gives your body a chance to recover, and helps your mind ease back to the normal pace of your daily life. If you don’t cool down at the moment, try it, you will be amazed at the difference it makes!

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