Why Risk Not Doing a Cool Down?

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A recently published article in the Health section of the NYT provided some confusing if not contradictory information about the best practice of going through a cool down after a period of intense exercise.

The article starts off by nearly dismissing the benefit of the cool down by describing it as something that is only "enshrined in training lore" and not really established by science.

The problem, says Hirofumi Tanaka, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas, Austin, is that there is pretty much no science behind the cool-down advice.

The cool-down, Dr. Tanaka said, "is an understudied topic."

"Everyone thinks it’s an established fact," he added, "so they don’t study it."

According to the NYT writer it’s not clear what the cool-down is supposed to do. Some say it alleviates muscle soreness. Others say it prevents muscle tightness or relieves strain on the heart.

Denise Austin - Get Fit, Tight and Toned!

Fortunately for the exercise crowd there are plenty of qualified experts who understand very well what the cool down is supposed to, and why it can be downright dangerous to ignore the cool down after intense aerobic exercise. For brevity you can consider intense aerobic exercise as any exercise that has your heart pounding at a high rate and your lungs burning for air.

Here's what happens during intense aerobic exercise. The blood vessels in your legs are expanded to send more blood to the big muscles in your legs and to your feet. Your heart pumps faster to keep up with the increased demand. When you stop exercising suddenly your heart immediately slows down and the blood pools in the large muscles of your legs. You will feel dizzy and in some cases even faint or pass out. For somebody with a heart disease, whether they are aware of it or not, the blood vessels leading to the heart are already narrowed and blood flow, which was difficult to begin with, is further restricted because most of it has accumulated in your leg muscles. That could be fatal for some.

The NYT freely quotes physiologists who debunk the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles as a bad thing. You should know that there are plenty of other physiologists who acknowledge the controversy but are not prepared to go so far. Even if school is still out on whether cooling down prevents post-exercise muscle soreness, also known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) the possibility that it does along with the other benefits tell me that a cool down is and will remain a best practice for the prudent exerciser.

At home fitness training equipment gets used more often. Cross train on an ergonomic Schwinn recumbent bike or pedal your way to low impact aerobic health with elliptical exercise equipment.

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