Health & Fitness

Tips for healthy exercise start and end with warming up, cooling down

An example of stretching that is not static is squats without weights.
An example of stretching that is not static is squats without weights. Getty Images/Thinkstock

It’s tough enough to get out there and exercise on a regular basis (should be daily), but adding a warmup and cool-down can feel like an even bigger burden. However, a proper warmup and cool-down can do a lot of good, including dilating your blood vessels, making sure that your muscles are well supplied with much needed oxygen.

Warming up also increases your muscles’ temperature, which can help increase flexibility, increases calorie burn, offers better muscle control, can help prevent lactic acid buildup and gets you mentally ready to start working out. Stretching (part of the warmup), improves range of motion and reduces stress on your joints and tendons, which could help prevent injuries.

The cool-down allows for an even transition from exercise, which reduces lightheadedness, injuries to the ligaments, joints, and muscles, and reduces the chance of heart attacks. Including a light stretch afterward may help reduce muscle soreness.

The stretches for warmups are different than stretching for cool-downs. Below are a few tips about how you can improve your exercise routine.

Warmup tips

▪ Start your exercise slowly and increase your pace gradually. For instance, if you’re running, you would jog first.

▪ The more intense the activity, the longer your warm-up should be.

▪ After you warm up (5 to 10 minutes), you should do some light stretching.

▪ Do not do static (holding) stretches or bounce stretching.

▪ Examples of stretching that is not static include shoulder rolls, ankle rolls, arm circles, high knee marches, hip circles and squats without weights. The idea is to get your body moving before you move into full gear.

▪ The primary purpose of stretching is to increase range of motion — allowing your limbs and joints to move farther, thereby making them more “flexible.” This occurs by increasing the length of both your muscles and tendons.

▪ Breathe deeply by inhaling and exhaling using your diaphragm.

▪ Go through the motions of any type of weight lifting without the resistance (using weights). For instance, if you’re going to do a pushup, go through the motions of reaching forward and pulling back while you’re standing.

Cool-down tips

▪ Walk for a few minutes, slowing your heart rate (should be below 120 beats per minute).

▪ After cooling down, it’s a good idea to stretch (in more of a traditional sense), holding each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Make sure you don’t bounce and that the stretch is not painful.

Additional resources

American Heart Association: www.heart.org

American Council on Exercise: www.acefitness.org

Charles Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.

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