We’ve all heard that you should cool down after a workout, but do you really have to? To answer the question, yes, you do have to cool down after exercise! Cooling down helps reduce muscle soreness and fatigue helps your heart rate and breathing return to normal, reduces your chances of injury, and prepares your body for the next time you work out.
While warming up before exercise helps prepare your body for physical activity, cooling down afterwards is just as important: it allows your body to recover from the stress of high-intensity exercise and reduces the risk of injury. Cooling down with low-impact exercises like swimming or walking after a workout can help flush out byproducts of tissue repair and reduce muscle pain.
How Do You Cool Down After Exercise?
When you exercise, your body generates heat through the movement and activates its sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Essentially, your SNS tells your blood vessels to constrict and your heart to beat faster in order to pump blood around the body faster. This is what makes you sweat during exercise.
The problem is that if you stop exercising abruptly, your SNS doesn’t switch off immediately. Instead, when you stop working out and start walking back to the car or sitting on a bench to catch your breath, all those warm blood vessels and fast-beating hearts continue to pump away. Without a way of getting rid of the extra heat all this activity creates, you risk overheating and fainting.
Getting rid of this extra heat is called “reversing” or “cooling down.” It’s important because exercising causes tiny tears in muscle fibers, which can lead to swelling if they aren’t massaged by a slower heart rate and cooled by cold blood vessels. This can leave you with stiffness and soreness as well as an increased risk of injury.