On Monday, I wrote about the importance of a warm-up period before aerobic exercise. I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the end of your workout, when it's just as important to gradually slow yourself down.
Just as many people skip the warm-up to save time, the cool-down period also sometimes gets short shrift in our hectic lives. But as I mentioned on Monday, we're only talking five to ten extra minutes. Surely you can spare that to treat your body with the care and respect that it deserves.
So big deal, you say, what could possibly happen by skipping the cool-down? Well, let's say you've been running at a pretty good pace on the treadmill for a half-hour, and then, suddenly, you just hop off and head for the shower. For the last 30 minutes, your heart and lungs and blood vessels have been working like the efficient machines they are to pump oxygenated blood to your exercising muscles. Then — bam! — without warning you're done. All that blood that's been flowing to your extremities is left sitting there, suddenly puzzled about its mission.
OK, obviously I'm not a doctor, but this sudden change in activity can cause a drop in blood pressure and pooling of blood in the veins that can lead to dizziness or fainting. So you might think you're headed for the shower, but in extreme cases you could instead be headed straight for the floor.
When you're ready to wrap up your aerobic session, just plan to add another five minutes in which to gradually reduce your intensity.
And when you're done with your cool-down, that's an excellent time to add some stretches to your workout, while your muscles are still warm and therefore more pliable. Some research has shown that post-workout stretching is more likely to result in greater gains in flexibility than stretching before a workout.
Warm-up, cool-down, stretching — it's all good stuff worthy of our attention. It's all part of the big picture here: better health, better living, better times.