Warm Up and Cool Down

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by community member Maggie.

Exercise is a vital component of both diabetes control and general well being. If we don't feel well after exercising, or worse, if we're actually injured, we're less likely to adopt long-term fitness habits, which will negatively affect our health. An effective warm-up and cool-down is an essential part of any workout.

Warm-Up

A proper warm-up has both physiological and psychological benefits.

Physiological

To begin, warming up increases muscle temperature, which means that the muscle will contract more forcefully and will relax more quickly.

Additionally, warming up increases the body's heat dissipation mechanisms. If these mechanisms are activated before more intense exercise, the body will be able to perform at 100% during the first parts of the event or exercise session.

Further, blood temperature increases during a warm-up. As blood temperature rises, it can't hold as much oxygen, meaning that more oxygen is available to muscles for better, more efficient performance. (Quinn, Elizabeth. "The Warm Up - How to Warm Up Before Exerise." Sports Medicine. About.com, 4 Nov. 2008. Web. 03 Sept. 2009. http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/injuryprevention/a/aa071003a.htm.)

Perhaps most importantly, you can often notice an injury during warm-up before moving on to more intense exercise. If something hurts during the warm-up, stop. For example, last week I noticed ankle pain during my walking warm-up last week, so I forwent a run and took a rest day. If I had started running without warming up, I could have seriously injured myself.

Psychological

Have you heard the song with the lyrics, "get'cha head in the game"? Warming up gets you used to your environment and lets you practice your technique. You an also review your workout plans, build concentration, and get focused. I love to listen to music during my warm up. If I encounter moments of self-doubt, I repeat a positive mantra in my head. "I can do it" Even though it's corny, it helps!

So What Do I Do?

The key: when you're warming up, your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) should fall between 6 and 11.

I prefer dynamic warm-ups, which include exercises and movements similar to those used in training, but at a lower intensity. (Kramer, Jim. "Performance Benefits of the Warm-Up." Olympian E-magazine. United States Olympic Committee, 2004. Web. 03 Sept. 2009. http://coaching.usolympicteam.com/coaching/kpub.nsf/v/Sep02-5.)

For example, in the weight room, I'll do my first set using lighter weights than my later sets. When I'm running, I walk for about 5 minutes then jog slowly before I continue to a faster pace. Some people's body temperature increases to the point of sweating during a warm up, but you should not be fatigued before starting the event or training session.
Cool Down

Cool downs both help the body recover and lead the body towards the pre-workout state. In my experience, a cool down makes the part of my day after a work out more comfortable.
Why Cool Down?

1- When you exercise, muscles pump blood up to the heart, which prevents the blood from settling in your legs. If you stop exercising abruptly, suddenly stopping muscle movement, blood pools in your legs instead of traveling to your heart. The result: dizziness.

2- In my previous post, I touched upon the accumulation of lactic acid (lactate) in the blood. When you cool down, blood flow is maintained at a lower level, which makes the movement of lactate out of your muscles more efficient. If you were to abruptly stop exercising, you'd delay the removal of extra lactate from your muscles. During prolonged exercise, lactate is an important fuel for your body. Afterwards, however, excess lactate can lead to muscle fatigue.

3- In addition, cooling down allows heart rate and respiration rate gradually return to normal. In short, this means that we're more comfortable, faster. I notice that when I run, my heart rate is closer to normal one hour after a run if I've cooled down for 10 minutes than if I skipped a cool-down.

(Manitoba Marathon. "Training - Warm Up & Cool Down." Manitoba Marathon. Manitoba Lotteries Corporations, 2009. Web. 03 Sept. 2009. http://www.manitobamarathon.mb.ca/training_warm_up.aspx.)

To sum it all up, cool-downs improve exercise recovery.
What Are My Options?

Remember, like when warming up, your RPE should be between 6 through 11.

My favorite way to cool down is to gradually slow the intensity of the exercise I'm doing. When I'm running, I spend 5 minutes jogging lightly, then 5 minutes walking. Weight lifters often lift the last set at a lighter weight than earlier sets.

Brisk walking can serve as a cool down to any exercise. For example, if you're hiking up a mountain, try walking for 5 minutes on a flat surface before stopping to enjoy the view.

As I've experienced firsthand, warming up improves my performance during training, while cooling down aids recovery and makes me feel better after my workouts. Although not directly related to blood sugar control, warming up and cooling down are much-neglected parts of exercise, which is an essential (and fun!) part of diabetes management.