It’s best to know how your body reacts with or without a cool down

Yes, you should. No, you shouldn’t. Depending on who you ask, cooling down after exercise is absolutely important or completely optional. There’s conflicting evidence to be sure, but one thing about which everybody agrees is that cooling down isn’t harmful.

The other thing about which everybody agrees is that cooling down after a workout assists in the gradual return to your pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure. This is important, especially if you want to have a conversation with someone and not be sweating. So, while the debate about its importance continues on, here’s what happens to the body during a post-exercise cool-down.

Can you skip it?

The world would be less interesting if it weren’t for the New York Times and the newspaper’s ability to question practically everything. Writer Gretchen Reynolds posed that question about cooling down. She concludes that there may be no negative consequences if you skip cooling down after exercise.

Reynolds cites a study published by The Journal of Human Kinetics that determined cooling down – which is often said to prevent muscle soreness – made no difference. She goes on to offer two more studies showing that Spanish professional soccer players performed no differently the next day if they skipped a cool-down.

She found that there might be a psychological benefit. Otherwise, she writes, it just “feels nice.”

Venous pooling

Even with these studies showing the potential of no benefit to curtailing muscle soreness or better next-day performance, the article does agree that cooling down after exercise prevents what’s known as venous pooling or a buildup of blood in your veins.

The American Heart Association (AHA) uses this condition as the reason you should cool down after exercise. Your body temperature is elevated, and your blood vessels are dilated. According to the AHA, if you go ramp down from strenuous exercise too quickly, your blood may pool in your legs.

Dr. Grant Cooper tells sharecare.com that your exercise session activated the “flight or fight” sympathetic part of your nervous system. When you stop, your parasympathetic nervous system resumes – just like after a meal. Blood is diverted and less goes to your head. It’s why you can feel dizzy if you come to a complete rest after a strenuous workout.

So, even if it doesn’t help with muscle soreness, a cool-down can prevent dizziness, nausea, or even passing out. Livestrong observes that this is more of a concern for serious athletes. They have heart rates that slow down faster and their veins – especially in the legs – hold more blood.

What about stretching after exercise?

This is a subject that generally gets a consensus across the board. The New York Times, AHA, and Livestrong all agree that cool-down stretching is a habit everybody should adopt after an exercise session. Okay, the New York Times doesn’t come right out and recommend stretching – they take a neutral stance, saying it’s not going to hurt you.

  • The AHA recommends strong but not painful stretches held from 10 to 30 seconds. Don’t bounce. Inhale while holding the stretch, and exhale as you go into it.
  • Livestrong reminds us that the best time to stretch is when your muscles are warm and that the flexibility may prevent future injury.
  • Verywellfit.com says a cool-down is stretching, or slower, gentle movements. This group also mentions that a post-exercise cool-down is an opportunity to include relaxation exercises.

What’s in a name?

Maybe you just shouldn’t call it cooling down. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature should return to their normal resting states, anyway. There’s evidence that cooling down won’t keep delayed onset muscle soreness at bay, nor will it help with next-day performance.

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