Breathing Rate & Heart Rates After Exercise

Woman with exercise mat and water bottle
Cooling down after exercise restores your breathing and heart rate back to normal. (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Most people are familiar with how their bodies feel during exercise; the heart beats faster and it becomes harder to breathe. This is a response to increased work by the muscles and an escalating need for oxygen throughout the body. Once you have finished exercising, your breathing and heart rate slowly return to normal, and the more exercise you perform, the more efficient this system becomes.

Restoration of Oxygen

Breathing rates remain elevated immediately following aerobic exercise. Rapid breathing continues to move oxygen through the lungs and ultimately, into the bloodstream and to the muscles. Although the muscles are not being used as extensively as they were during a workout, this increased breathing and heart rate prevents the buildup of carbon dioxide and restores the necessary oxygen that was depleted during exercise.

Recovery Period

The time that it takes for your heart and your breathing to slow back down to their resting rates is known as the recovery period. Its length can vary among individuals, and you may have a slower recovery time compared with someone else. People who are trained athletes or who exercise consistently have faster recovery times than those who live sedentary lifestyles and who occasionally work out.

Cooling Down

Following your exercise routine, a cool-down period is important to slowly bring your heart rate and breathing patterns back to normal. After working out, allow yourself at least five minutes to cool down, which includes slowly decreasing the intensity of your workout until you are ready to stop. You can follow this with stretches and range of motion exercises. Avoid stopping exercise completely until you have had sufficient time to cool down. The dramatic decrease in muscle activity can cause your blood pressure to drop, resulting in dizziness or lightheadedness.

Long-Term Effects

When you exercise on a regularly, your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood. Although your breathing and heart rates will increase during exercise, you may then have a slower heart rate afterward. Because your heart is a muscle, it becomes conditioned with regular activity and requires less effort to pump oxygenated blood. This is reflected both during and following exercise. Your heart rate will still increase while exercising, but not as sharply because the heart is strengthened; your breathing will intensify, but you may be less winded. Once your exercise routine is complete, breathing and heart rate will return to normal more quickly.

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