Whether you are experienced at exercise and want to amp up your workout, or someone just starting out, care must be taken when increasing your activity. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
Warm-up – A good warm-up should mimic the type of activity you will be doing. As an example, if you are planning to jog, start with a slow walk and gradually increase the pace, transitioning to a jog once your muscles feel looser and you are breathing a little harder. Your warm-up should take at least 5 minutes, depending on the amount of time you plan to exercise. Some experts recommend that the warm-up and cool-down phases together should be as long as the amount of time spent exercising. For example, a half-hour workout might mean a 15-minute warm-up, plus a 15-minute cool-down period.
Stretching – It may seem strange, but you might benefit from doing a little stretching after you have warmed up and before you begin more vigorous exercise. This can help joints become more flexible. You should not stretch “cold” muscles.
Increase gradually – Slowly increase the amount of time you spend in vigorous activity. Doing too much too soon can increase your chance of injury. A sensible plan might be to increase by 10 percent each week the time or distance that you did the previous week. If you are new to exercise, aim for 10 or 15 minutes at a time until you build up stamina.
Cooling down – This means gradually bringing your heart rate and respiration back to your pre-exercise state. A cool-down period is very important, especially if you are working out harder. Strenuous exercise causes more blood to move into the legs and feet. If you suddenly stop exercising, your heart rate drops too quickly and that blood can pool in your lower body, causing dizziness and even fainting. Whatever you did as a warm-up can be repeated for cooling down. You should stay in the cool-down phase until you feel breathing and heart rate returning to normal.
Stretch (again) – Muscles can tighten up, especially when they aren’t used to exercise, and may remain so for long periods of time. Stretching after you exercise, and while muscles are still warm, can help muscles and joints to remain flexible and prevent muscle soreness.
Remember that it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.