It goes without saying that a great workout is beneficial to the body for various reasons. It helps to improve overall health, lowers risk of disease and obesity, adds self-esteem, and supports emotional stability and mood, while helping to develop and support regular sleep patterns. Experts joke that it is the cure-all for any ailment that comes with getting older. And, have you ever noticed that people who regularly exercise seem to be the happiest people you have ever met? There’s a reason!
A great workout includes all of the expected benefits, but requires a proper cool down afterwards. The human body requires maintenance – just like a piece of machinery or a winning race horse, without a cool down period, many of the benefits from working out can be undone in a matter of hours. In many cases, it can also cause wear-and-tear injuries (damage or deterioration resulting from ordinary use). Cool-down exercises are categorized as any light exercise, helping your body to smoothly transition from working hard with blood pumping and heightened breathing, to a period of resting.
The cool-down period is just as important as the actual exercise for many reasons, including reduced strain on the heart as it goes from exerting itself back to normal. The cool-down period can also help to decrease, if not prevent altogether, any post-workout dizziness or other common discomfort. Post-workout dizziness is caused by blood pooling in the lower extremities from veins increasing in size to accommodate the increased blood flow from the heart. The increased blood flow is one of the reasons why you sometimes feel weightless and euphoric after a workout, but if you are not used to it, it can turn into extreme dizziness or vertigo, which can lead to fainting. The key is to keep moving, but slow down gradually so that your heart rate is not dropping too suddenly.
Post-workout maintenance is key in preventing wear-and-tear injuries, or a more painful tear that could result in surgery and months of downtime. Stretching and slowing to a walk post-workout can help to return the muscles to their optimal length-tension relationship, while restoring the body’s physiological systems back to a comfortable baseline. Stretching while your muscles are still warm can also help to speed up and improve flexibility. Stretch each muscle group for at least 10-20 seconds after a workout. The stretching should not feel painful – this could be a warning sign of a potential tear or existing fatigue on the specific muscle.
The most important habit to get into is to listen to your body. There is no reason to over exert your muscles or circulatory system for a daily workout, especially when the risks include fainting or injury. If this is a new exercise regime, take it slow and bring a buddy or “spotter.” Workout buddies can provide support, both mentally and physically. And remember to have fun! The most successful exercise is one that doesn’t feel too much like homework. No one likes homework.
*Consult a physician or professional physical trainer for specific questions pertaining to your workout and physical capability.