A warm-up is an essential part of an exercise routine. By gradually increasing activity and performing stretches of the major muscle groups you will use, you increase blood flow to your heart and muscles. This allows them to slowly adjust to the extra demands of exercise.
A warm up should last 5–10 minutes. Begin with gentle repetitions of the exercises you will be doing, eg., slow walking, and arm movements.
Cool down for 10–15 minutes after exercising. This will:
- prevent blood pooling in your limbs
- increase the return of blood to the heart
- speed your rate of recovery
- reduce the chance of stiff, sore muscles and cramps.
Gradually slow the activity and keep your limbs moving until your breathing rate has returned to normal. Include slow, comfortable stretches, focusing on those muscles involved in the exercise.
The best time to stretch is after exercising, when the muscles are warm and receptive to the stretch.
- Each stretch should be held for 10–30 seconds. The longer you hold the stretch, the greater the benefit.
- All stretches should be slow and static. Don't bounce.
- Make sure you stretch all major body parts.
- Never stretch a cold muscle.
- Don't stretch to the point of pain.
- Remember – don't hold your breath.
This information was first published in You and Your Heart - an education booklet for patients, families and friends. © 2006 Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service