By Lauren Bedosky
It can be hard enough to squeeze a workout into your day, much less one that includes a thorough cooldown. However, there are plenty of good reasons to budget extra time.
Here are a few of the benefits of stretching and cooling down.
- It Prevents Nausea and Dizziness
Exercise elevates your heart rate and blood pressure to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your working muscles. Stopping suddenly after exercise causes your heart rate and blood pressure to drop rapidly, which can make you feel dizzy.
But if you cool down with some stretches and light activity, you’ll keep the blood flowing throughout your body so you can lower your heart rate and blood pressure gradually, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). This can help prevent lightheadedness and nausea.
- Improves Flexibility
Your body temperature is higher during and immediately after a workout, and all that blood your heart was pumping throughout your body has primed your muscles and soft tissues for flexibility work. Taking some time to stretch out your muscles after your workout can improve flexibility, enhancing the quality of movement during exercise and everyday life.
Stretching after a workout won’t necessarily prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), notes the American Council on Exercise (ACE). (DOMS is that achy, burning feeling you get in your muscles a day or two after an intense workout.) However, stretching can feel really good after exercise and help calm your nervous system back down to pre-exercise levels.
- It Gives You Time to Think
The end of a workout offers an excellent opportunity to think about how it went. Here are some ideas that can help improve your future workouts
- How the workout felt (for example, easy, moderate, or challenging)
- What you accomplished (a new personal best, making it to the gym, keeping up with the group fitness instructor)
- What, if anything, you could have done differently (eaten a better breakfast, gone with a friend, worked at a harder intensity)
Reflecting on your accomplishments may build your confidence and give you goals to work toward during future sessions — something you’d miss out on if you simply head into the rest of your day.
How to Cool Down After a Workout
You don’t have to spend a ton of time on your post-workout cooldown to see benefits. Even 5 to 10 minutes will make a difference.
The AHA recommends these simple steps for cooling down:
- Walk or perform another light aerobic activity for about 5 minutes, or until your heart rate dips below 120 beats per minute
- Stretch out the muscles you used during your workout, following these guidelines:
- Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds; repeat as needed
- Don’t bounce or stretch to the point of pain
- Remember to breathe while you stretch; inhale while holding the stretch and exhale to go a little deeper