Why Does the Body Have to Cool Down After Exercise?

Most fitness fanatics believe that cooling down after exercise is just as important as the workout itself. While a proper cool down can benefit your body, these benefits are often misunderstood among casual exercisers and fitness professionals alike. Learning about the exact science behind the cool down will help you understand just what those extra minutes of exercise can and cannot do for your body.

Cooling down after exercise can prevent dizziness. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Importance of Cooling Down

One of the most important functions of the post-exercise cool down is to prevent dizziness. Strenuous exercise causes the blood vessels in your legs to expand, bringing more blood into the legs and feet. When you stop exercising suddenly without taking time to cool down, your heart rate slows abruptly and that blood can pool in your lower body, causing dizziness and even fainting. The risk is greater for serious athletes, whose heart rates slow down faster and whose veins can hold more blood; for casual exercisers, something as simple as walking from the treadmill to the locker room may be enough to prevent dizziness.

Cooling Down Myth

The idea that cooling down can help prevent muscle soreness and injury is popular among exercisers, but it's not actually backed up by fact. It was once believed that muscle soreness resulted from the build up of lactic acid, which could be dissipated with a cool down. However, this theory has been disproved, and there exists no other research to suggest that cooling down can prevent sore muscles.

Cool Down Stretching

While not all exercisers need to do a proper cool down, everyone should be in the habit of stretching after each exercise session. Stretching when your muscles are warm, as they are after a workout, can improve your flexibility over time, which in turn helps prevent injury. Stretch every major muscle group after a workout, holding each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds and breathing throughout. Stretching shouldn't be painful, but you should feel tension in the muscle being stretched.

How to Cool Down Properly

Your goal during a cool down is to gradually bring your heart rate back down to its resting level. When your workout ends, keep up your activity but move at a slower pace; keep reducing your pace every minute or two. Your cool down should last for at least five minutes, but you may need to keep moving longer if your heart rate is still elevated. Once you've cooled down, gently stretch every muscle.

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