Why is it important to cool down after exercise?

Grant Cooper, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Always remember to cool down after exercising. This gives your muscles a chance to relax and prevents your blood pressure from dropping too rapidly, which can happen if your blood is allowed to pool in your extremities.

Exercising activates the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that is responsible for your body's "flight or fight" response. This is your body's physiologic response to challenges such as running from a saber tooth tiger, defending your home against an intruder, or summoning the nerve to ask someone for a date. Your eyes dilate, heart rate increases, blood pressure rises (in fact, your blood can pump 400 - 600 percent more than when at rest), and your arteries redirect your blood flow away from your abdomen and to your heart, brain, and extremities (if they are active). When you exercise using your arms and legs, the arteries in your extremities dilate to allow blood to flow to them. When you stop exercising, your sympathetic nervous system turns off and your parasympathetic nervous system turns on.

The parasympathetic nervous system takes over when you are at rest, such as immediately after a large meal. Your blood pressure drops, your blood vessels relax and dilate, blood flows to your abdomen, and your heart rate slows. The blood that only moments ago was being powerfully pumped by your sympathetically charged heart no longer has that strong push, and has a tendency to pool in your extremities. The blood does not get to your head, creating the potential for fainting. This can be avoided by cooling down after you exercise.
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Great question... Research states that performing a cool down after your workout can help with the following:

Cool down for 5-10 minutes with low intensity activity like slow walking. Helps your heart rate and breathing to return towards resting levels gradually; helps avoid fainting or dizziness, which can result from blood pooling in the large muscles of the legs when vigorous activity is stopped suddenly helps to remove waste products from your muscles, such as lactic acid, which can build up during vigorous activity (lactic acid is most effectively removed by gentle exercise rather than stopping suddenly); and helps to prepare your muscles for the next exercise session. Static stretching for 10 minutes or so is a great way to relax and improve flexibility.

A cool-down provides the body with a smooth transition from exercise back to a steady state of rest.

The overarching goal of a cool-down is to reduce heart and breathing rates, gradually cool body temperature, return muscles to their optimal length-tension relationships, prevent venous pooling of blood in the lower extremities, which may cause dizziness or possible fainting, and restore physiologic systems close to baseline.

The proposed benefits of a cool-down are shown below:

•              Reduce heart and breathing rates

•              Gradually cool body temperature

•              Return muscles to their optimal length-tension relationships

•              Prevent venous pooling of blood in the lower extremities

•              Restore physiologic systems close to baseline

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.