Do you often, if guiltily, skip cooling down after exercise? A small but soothing body of new research suggests that you aren’t missing out on much.Do you really need to take the extra time to cool down after you exercise? What happens when you don’t? Experts say it’s a definite yes – and if you’re going to engage in intense exercise, it may even be essential. Here’s why you should always cool down after a workout, even if you don’t think it’s always necessary.

What Exactly Is A Cool Down?

The Merriam-Webster defines cool down as “the act or an instance of allowing a physiological activity to return to normal gradually after strenuous exercise by engaging in less strenuous exercise.” For example, you could cool down after doing interval sprinting by jogging at progressively slower speeds, followed by walking. Many cooldowns also include stretching, which I will not discuss directly, as post-exercise stretching is likely very beneficial and deserves its own article.

Why Cooling Down After A Workout Matters

There’s really only one major risk to skipping a cool down after exercise, and that’s dizziness and/or fainting. Going from intense exercise straight into little to no movement at all doesn’t give your heart enough time to get enough blood back into your head. More blood gets pumped closer to your muscles as you’re working out, which is also why your heart rate increases. You need to give your body time to adjust to the change in activity – anywhere from two to five minutes is really all you need, but don’t skip out – especially after more intense workouts.

Muscles And Stretching

The reason stretching is so important after exercise is because your muscles are warm from recent use. Stretching as part of your post-workout cool down can increase your flexibility, but it also gives your heart time to slow down while you’re still technically working for different muscle groups.

Does A “Cool Down” Really Have Benefits?

During a cool down, blood redistributes and your heart rate slows. People who promote cooldowns believe they reduce muscle soreness and stiffness and reduce the likelihood of injury. Stretching after exercise improves general flexibility. They also believe cooling down can improve recovery rate.

There is, however, little scientific evidence that demonstrates you will derive a benefit from cooling down (aside from stretching), with one important exception.When you exercise, there is often increased blood flow in the legs which leads to venous pooling, which basically means more blood is moving into your legs than is coming out of them. Stopping exercise abruptly can make you feel lightheaded or even faint.Cooling down can facilitate the return of blood to the heart and then to the brain, which can prevent this from happening.However, just walking around for a few minutes after exercise is effective in preventing dizziness or fainting.

There are a number of studies that clearly show no benefit from a cool down. One study (a randomized controlled trial) published in the Australian Journal of Physiotherapy showed that you can decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness from warming-up but not from cooling down.Another randomized controlled trial, using professional soccer players, demonstrated that cooling down after an exercise session will not allow you to perform better your next exercise session.

So, Can I Just Stop Exercising and Immediately Start Something Else?

Like most things, the question of whether to cool down comes down to the risk / benefit ratio and personal preference. While most scientific evidence suggests that cooling down doesn’t have big benefits, there is also no risk to doing so. Therefore, if doing some lower intensity activity after an exercise session makes you feel good, then, by all means, do it. If you’re prone to fainting if you do not cool down, it would be prudent to make sure all exercise sessions include one. However, if you don’t want to cool down or are limited in terms of time, do not feel like you need to do it.