It can be tempting to pack up straight after finishing that gruelling last set of reps in the gym, but have you cooled down first? A few minutes of gentle exercise or stretching can bring your body temperature down, return your heart rate to its resting pace and release lactic acid from your active muscles. A cool-down routine can also be effective on a psychological basis, bringing you back from your adrenaline-filled workout to your normal day. Follow these three simple steps after a strenuous workout and you may just notice a big difference in how you feel afterwards.

Drop your last workout activity to a lower intensity 

At high intensity levels your body diverts blood to the muscles that are working out. Fail to slow your body down after intense activity, and you could find yourself feeling dizzy or lightheaded. You can get blood coursing back to your heart and brain with several minutes of gentle walking after a run or heavy workout. Even a few walking lunges can help to move blood around the body again. Concentrate on deep breathing as you do so, in order to bring in fresh oxygen into your body and muscles.

Spend some time stretching

If you’ve been working on strength exercises, many people swear by gentle stretching as an effective way to release the build-up of lactic acid in their muscles after they’ve been pumping iron. Stretching also improves your flexibility, so we think it’s definitely worth spending a few minutes performing toe touches, hamstring, shoulder and quad stretches, plus some techniques to open up your chest. A couple of sun salutations can address most of the major muscle groups and release muscle tension throughout your body.

Rehydrate your body

Water helps to keep our body temperature regulated, maintains our blood volume and ensures our muscles are working healthily, but we tend to sweat a lot of water out during a workout – and this can lead to cramps, headaches and nausea if we don’t replenish it. As soon as you’ve finished your gym session, be sure to take a large drink of water to rehydrate your body and keep sipping throughout the day. You might also wish to drink a protein shake or eat a snack that’s high in both carbs and protein, which will encourage muscle recovery and growth. Some rice cakes with peanut butter, a yoghurt and muesli or some hummus and flatbread can be ideal.