How to ... warm up and cool down

Don't neglect a warm-up. It prepares your body for aerobic exercise by increasing blood flow through your heart and lungs. This results in more oxygen and sugar (glucose) being delivered to your muscles, a faster and more forceful heartbeat, and more frequent breathing. As the temperature of the body rises, muscles become warmer and better prepared for exercise.

Do structure your warm-up. Jog or power walk for five to 10 minutes before a workout to get yourself warm, then perform five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching exercises (arm/leg swings, shoulder circles and lunges etc) to reduce stiffness. Static stretches, in which you hold a position for several seconds, don't have the same effect.

Do pay particular attention to your warm-up if you suffer from exercise-induced asthma. A 10-20 minute warm-up routine has been shown to alleviate chest tightness and other symptoms. Performing some short sprints over 15-20 metres helps ease your body into activity mode.

Don't end a workout abruptly. If you do, especially following vigorous exercise, your blood pressure drops, which could cause dizziness or fainting. A proper cool-down prevents the sudden pooling of blood after activity and re-circulates it back to the heart, skeletal muscles and brain. A cool-down also helps flush out waste products produced during exercise, such as lactic acid, that can leave you feeling stiff and tired the next day. Ideally, a cool-down should consist of five to 10 minutes of jogging or walking and five to 10 minutes of stretching.

Do save static stretches (where you hold a stretch for several seconds, as with yoga-type moves) for the cool-down. Last year, researchers at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal reviewed the evidence on stretching for the Physician and Sports Medicine Journal. They concluded that when performed immediately prior to a workout, stretching causes a small, albeit temporary, reduction in a muscle's power and force. For anyone needing to perform kicks or jumps (in football or martial arts) or who wants to lift weights, this could be limiting.

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