Most people who exercise regularly spend 5 or 10 minutes warming up to loosen tight muscles and vitalize the whole body with more oxygen-rich blood. But it’s equally important to allow time to wind back down after pumping yourself up.
At the end of a hearty workout – or a brisk 20-minute walk – your body will benefit from a gradual cooling-off period as elevated heart and blood pressure levels return to normal. Stopping cold after building up a lather (or mild sweat, as the case might be) can lead to muscle cramps and dizziness or light-headedness from the sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure.
There are definite heart-health benefits from lowering the pulse rate while continuing to exercise much more moderately, accompanied by cool-down stretches.
The cool-down period needs to be long enough to slow your heart rate below 100 beats per minute (bpm). Check your pulse at the neck or wrist points with a stopwatch or sweep-second-hand clock or watch. Count the number of heartbeats in 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get your heart rate in bpm.
If you are pressed for time, extend and flex those tired muscles anyway, after an invigorating workout, even if you can only spare a couple of minutes. Make up for this needful time by cutting back on the workout portion of your session.
Over time and with regular repetition, your body should become much more limber and flexible, just like mine did. If I can do it, so can you!
Remember to exhale and extend during a stretch. Hold the position for as long as it is comfortable. Inhale while holding the stretch and relax into the position. Relax your thoughts or focus on your third eye (directly behind the forehead within your mind).
It’s very important to avoid getting dizzy or disoriented after a healthy workout by gradually lowering your activity level. The blood vessels in your legs expand and bring more blood into the legs and feet while your heart is pumping fast. A hard stop after vigorous exercise with no cool-down period is hard on your cardiovascular system. A sudden drop in your pulse rate can allow blood to collect in your lower body parts rather than deliver life-giving oxygen to the heart and brain. The result is often dizziness, vertigo, or fainting (losing consciousness).
“After a run, slow down your stride and walk for three to five minutes (or longer if it was an exceptionally intense effort). Cooling down is even important after a strength workout. After lifting, try doing some dynamic stretches such as walking lunges or yoga poses,” according to the Men’s Journal.
It’s time to quote my swim coach, Wyn Paul, who trained young athletes for the Olympics:
TRAIN, DON’T STRAIN.
To reduce my heart rate after working out, I cool down with these stretches:
Hamstring stretch. Stand straight, then crouch down while extending one foot forward to touch your heel to the mat. Place both hands, one over the other, just above the knee of the other supporting leg to help keep your balance. Variation: point the toes toward the mat, then flex them back toward your knee. Repeat this pose with the opposite leg outstretched.
Thigh stretch. Stand straight. Lift one foot and hold it up with the hand on that side. Extend the other arm for balance – or grab onto something sturdy as you get used to this strengthening balance-builder. Breathe normally and hold for several seconds. This large muscle is often tight so it’s important to stretch it out regularly. Repeat this leg stretch on the opposite side.
Wall push-ups. Stand near and wall. Lean forward, extend both arms, and place both palms flat on the wall while keeping your heels on the mat. If you have to raise your heels, move closer to the wall. Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the wall. Push back into the starting position. Repeat at least 8 times slowly. Enjoy this stretch with also builds arm and core strength.
Standing torso twist. One of my absolute favorites, any time, really. Stand straight. Begin swinging your body from side to side. Slowly and gradually, raise both arms sideways until they are parallel to the ground. Let the weight of your outstretched arms take you further into the stretch. When you are finished, continue twisting side to side while slowly lowering both arms until you end in a standing position.
Sideways lunge stretch. Stand straight with legs spread wide apart. Lean to one side and place your forearm just above your knee for stability and balance. Slowly raise the other arm and point the fingertips toward the ceiling. Look at your extended fingertips as you hold this challenging pose. Don’t worry if you wobble, practice makes perfect. Hold this pose for as long as is comfortable and repeat on the other side.
Back rolls (cat/cow). On your hands and knees, lower your head and arch your back upward like a cat stretching. Hold this extension briefly before raising your head and chin while lowering your back into a curved bowl shape. Repeat several times.
Give your whole body the gift of love every time you stretch, and particularly after heart-pumping exercise.