WHY AND HOW TO… Warm Up and Cool Down

By admin
March 11, 2019

By Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Even if you don’t always take the time to properly warm up before a workout and cool down after you are finished, you probably know that you should. Here’s why warming up and cooling down are so important and how you can effectively prepare for and recover from your workouts in just a few minutes.

Why Warm Up?

The main purpose of a warm-up is to increase muscle temperature to enhance the activity of enzymes that produce energy during exercise. Pre-exercise activity will increase blood flow to the muscles to deliver oxygen and other nutrients needed to make energy. Together, these effects can improve exercise performance.

It’s not all about performance, though. Warming up also increases blood flow to the heart which can help reduce the chance of developing chest pain or having a heart attack at the onset of strenuous exercise. This is especially important for people who may have heart disease.

The benefits of warming up go beyond the physical. Recreational and competitive athletes get psychological benefits including improved focus, motivation, and confidence. In sports, warming up together can enhance team dynamics. Warming up can put you in the right mindset for your workout, whether that is a challenging session in the gym or a walk around your neighborhood.

Two controversial topics related to warm-up include stretching and injury prevention. First, stretching alone is not a sufficient warm-up. Increasing range of motion through stretching and other exercises can be part of a warm up, but they should not be the only activity.

Furthermore, stretching to improve muscle and joint flexibility should be done after the muscles are warm, either after a good warm-up or at the end of an exercise session.

It is also widely believed that warming up can reduce the risk of injury during exercise. While that makes sense intuitively, there is no consensus in the research. This is likely because many injuries result from extreme muscle and joint overloading or contact with the ground or other athletes that no amount of warming up can prevent. The bottom line is that warming up probably does reduce the risk of injury to some extent, so it is definitely worth doing.

Why Cool Down?

When your workout is finished you shouldn’t just stop! Active cool down can prevent a condition called post-exercise hypotension, a blood pressure drop that can occur after exercise. When you exercise, there is an increase in blood flow to your active muscles. If you suddenly stop exercising and stand still, blood can pool in your legs resulting in lower blood pressure, dizziness and fainting. This is most relevant for upright exercise like walking, running and cycling, but it can also happen following resistance exercise. Continuing to move at a lower intensity after exercise can maintain the blood flow and prevent a sharp blood pressure drop from occurring.

Active recovery is also important for performance, especially for athletes who have back-to-back events. During intense exercise, muscles can accumulate metabolic waste products that can contribute to fatigue. These are removed from the muscle after exercise, but research shows they are removed more quickly during an active cool-down period. This can lead to quicker recovery and better performance in subsequent exercise bouts.

What constitutes a good warm-up?

A good warm-up should include the muscle groups that will be used during exercise, so focusing on legs for walking, running, or cycling and arms for rowing or other upper body exercise is wise. For most people, 5-10 minutes of light-to-moderate intensity exercise is a good general warm up for most activities.

For example, if you are preparing for a workout in the gym you could start with 3–5 minutes of walking, running, cycling, or rowing followed by 3–5 minutes of dynamic stretching, emphasizing the muscle groups you will be using. For walking or running, begin with a few minutes at a slower pace before doing some stretching, focusing on the legs.

What constitutes a good cool-down?

When your workout is finished, continue moving for several minutes. Then, spend some time stretching and mobilizing. The longer you hold static stretches, the bigger the benefits; a minute or more per stretch is a good goal. You can also use a foam roller to target especially tight areas.

The Wrap Up Warming up and cooling down will lengthen your exercise sessions, but the benefits of a better workout and improved recovery will make that time well spent!

Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Hidden Benefits of Exercise

By admin
November 11, 2018

Hidden Benefits of Exercise

By Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist

There is no question that exercise is essential for achieving and maintaining physical fitness, losing weight and keeping it off, and preventing and treating diseases like diabetes. What you may not know is that exercise can improve your health in ways that you may not be able to notice in the gym or on the scale.

These benefits have to do with the fact that exercise causes your muscles to produce chemical signals called myokines that influence other organs. For example, exercise can stimulate other cells to be more sensitive to insulin, which can help control blood glucose. Emerging research shows that these effects are widespread, leading to health benefits that go far beyond fitness and weight control. Here are a few surprising ways that exercise can improve your health.

Improve your immune system.

Exercise can have a positive effect on your immune system. People who participate in moderate exercise on a daily basis have fewer and less severe colds and have up to 50% fewer sick days than those who aren’t regularly active. Research shows that exercise increases the activity of certain immune cells called helper T cells. This makes the immune system response to viruses, like the cold and flu, more robust. The strongest evidence is seen when the exercise is moderate in intensity and duration, such as a 30 to 60-minute walk or jog.

Fight the fire of inflammation.

Inflammation is a key factor involved in the development of numerous chronic diseases including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and some cancers. Many people look to their diet for foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, but it turns out that exercise can have a significant impact on reducing inflammation, too. One of the myokines released by muscle during exercise is IL-6, a substance that has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Additionally, exercise alters the production of other substances that cause inflammation, providing broad protection against inflammatory damage.

Balance your gut bacteria.

You have probably heard that the bacteria that naturally inhabit your intestines are linked to your health. Put simply, some of these bacteria are harmful to your health, directly and indirectly causing health problems. Most obvious are GI issues, but these bacteria can also influence your hormones and metabolism in ways that lead to inflammation, obesity, and heart disease. Other bacteria are considered “good,” meaning they have positive health effects. Recent research shows that exercise can have a beneficial effect on gut bacteria which potentially can influence GI system health, inflammation, and weight control.

Boost your brain function.

Research shows that exercise has far-reaching outcomes on the structure and function of the brain, derived from increased brain blood flow and the production of BDNF, an important growth factor that promotes brain growth and repair. The benefits include improved learning and memory, better attention and ability to ignore distractions, enhanced stress management, and improved mood.

Outrun your bad diet.

The claim that “you can’t outrun a bad diet” is often used to support the notion that what you eat is more important than what you do for activity. While diet is critical to good health, this claim simply isn’t true. Exercise has powerful effects that can reduce the negative impact of your diet. Every time you exercise, the number of receptors that remove glucose from your blood increases to regulate blood glucose, particularly relevant to diabetes. Exercise also causes an increased uptake of fats from the blood, lowering blood lipid levels. This is especially important after eating a high fat meal which, together with other factors, can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Exercise really can prevent some of the damage that occurs when you eat too much fat, sugar, or carbohydrates in general!

Sleep better.

Exercise has long been associated with improved sleep. This is thought to be due to the fact that exercise depletes energy stores and elevates body temperature and sleep restores energy, promotes tissue repair, and regulates body temperature. Exercise is a healthy, safe, inexpensive, and simple means of improving sleep, potentially replacing sleeping pills. Research also shows that aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality, mood, and feelings of vitality in people with chronic insomnia.

Take steps to achieve these benefits.

Like improved fitness and weight control, these other benefits depend on the type, intensity, and duration of the exercise you do. At a minimum, making time to be active every day is essential, even if it is a 30-minute walk. You should plan for longer exercise sessions on some days, shorter, more intense workouts on others, and strength training at least two days per week. This will meet goals for fitness and weight control as well as achieving other hidden exercise benefits that will promote better overall health.

Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Reading on the RUN

By admin
July 06, 2018

athlete listening to music

Listening to music while you run, walk briskly or engage in other forms of exercise can benefit your workout by affecting your mood, emotions and even cognition. In a previous issue of Well-Being, staff writer Brian Parr, ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, addressed how music enhances exercise performance in a number of ways, both psychologically and physiologically. It can make the time spent exercising seem to go by faster by providing a mental distraction from fatigue and make workouts more enjoyable and effective. So, what if you take these principles and apply them to listening to audible books and podcasts? You have just gleaned a whole block of time to catch up on your summer reading wish list without taking time away from your regular workout regimen.

According to Chris Friesen, an author and clinical psychologist who specializes in sport and performance psychology, there is now evidence that people are more open to new information and more creative while running. It appears when one is running the brain creates space for processing ideas.

Books.When reading on the run, runners also report that they find the pace of their running may vary with the level of drama in the story they are hearing, much as it does when listening to music. During a suspenseful episode in a mystery thriller, runners may find the intensity of their run picking up, likewise, during more serene passages their pace moderates and they become more relaxed.

Friesen and other enthusiasts of reading on the run caution runners to not become so engrossed while listening to audio books that they fail to pay proper attention to hazards of the road. One suggestion is to use only one earbud so you can still hear ambient noise of the road, track or trail, or use headphones that are designed so you can still hear what is going on around you.

Listening to audio books is a great way for book lovers in a hurry to return to their former reading habits without sacrificing time from other daily time-burners. For some dyed-in-the-wool multi-taskers, it’s the perfect chance to reclaim time they once found intellectually unproductive.

Great Summer Reading Available on Audible Audiobook

Amazon recommends some new titles to consider for reading on the run this summer:

  • Florida by Lauren Groff
  • The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
  • The Other Woman by Daniel Silva
  • Tom Clancy Line of Sight (A Jack Ryan Jr. Novel) by Mike Maden
  • There There by Tommy Orange
  • All We Ever Wanted by Emily Griffin
  • The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand
  • Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
  • Cottage by the Sea by Debbie Macomber
  • Where We Found Home by Susan Mallery

Running Hot. The challenges of exercise in the heat.

By admin
July 06, 2018

tired woman runner taking a rest after running hard

By Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Associate Professor

It’s that time of year again! Summer weather can make outdoor exercise especially challenging. Even if you take precautions to avoid serious heat-related injuries, exercise on a hot, humid day can adversely affect your performance. At the very least, your workout will feel harder.

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. The humidity is a huge factor. If you have tremendously high temperatures and high humidity, you will be sweating but the sweat won’t be drying on the skin. That’s why it’s not just heat but the combination of heat and humidity that matters.

When you exercise, you produce a lot of heat though muscle activity. To avoid hyperthermia (the condition of having a body temperature greatly above normal), that heat must be dissipated. Blood flow to the skin is increased to help you lose heat to the air around you, a mechanism called radiation. At the same time, you start to sweat. As the sweat evaporates, it takes heat away from your body. On a cool, low humidity day you can easily lose heat by radiation and evaporation, maintaining your body temperature close to normal.

On a hot, humid day it is much harder to lose heat and evaporate sweat from your skin. In fact, on a 100 degree day with very high humidity you may actually gain heat from the air, rather than losing it! But your body responds the same, directing more blood flow to the skin and increasing sweat rate. These physiological responses can impact your performance.

Continuing to direct blood flow to the skin may mean that less blood goes to the muscle. Over time, an excessive sweat rate can lead to dehydration, which can also reduce blood flow to muscle. This means that less oxygen as well as carbohydrate and fat fuels get to the muscle. Since your muscles require oxygen and fuel to produce energy to power your muscles, this can lead to fatigue – an inability of the muscles to maintain force production, which you notice as a drop in running or cycling speed.

Temperature guage of a motorbikeDehydration also means that there is less fluid to lose as sweat, impairing your ability to lose heat by evaporation. Since you are still generating heat from muscle activity but not losing nearly as much, this causes hyperthermia. This is why fluid replacement is so important during exercise, especially in a hot, humid environment.

Even if you do stay hydrated, rising body temperature can still cause feelings of fatigue. Since all muscle activity is regulated in the brain, increasing body (and brain) temperature can inhibit the activation of muscle. Additionally, when you’re hot, exercise seems harder and you may feel less motivated. Both of these result in lower muscular force production, making you move slower.

The impact of extreme sustained heat on the body The systems in the human body that enable it to adapt to heat become overwhelmed. When a person is exposed to heat for a very long time, the first thing that shuts down is the ability to sweat. We know that when perspiration is dried by the air there is a cooling effect on the body. Once a person stops perspiring, in very short order they can move from heat exhaustion to heatstroke.

You can prevent many of these heat-related problems by taking some common-sense precautions: Make sure you drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise, wear clothing that will help keep you cool, limit the duration of your workout and take it easy on really hot, humid days. Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

Both heat exhaustion and heatstroke are caused by exercising or playing in a hot, humid environment where the body becomes dehydrated. However, they show different combinations of symptoms.

Heat exhaustion is usually accompanied by a fever no higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, excessive thirst, nausea, fainting, cool and clammy skin, weakness, muscle aches, heavy sweating, slow heartbeat and dizziness.

Heatstroke may develop following heat exhaustion if the condition is not treated. It occurs when the body’s temperature rises and the cooling system stops working. This potentially life-threatening condition is characterized by nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, fatigue, rapid heart rate, hot and dry skin, shortness of breath and decreased urination.

Any person who is exhibiting the signs of heatstroke should immediately seek medical attention.

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March 19th 2019

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