Q. I regularly swim a mile in an indoor pool. I used to follow that with a 15-minute whirlpool, which I enjoyed very much. I stopped taking the whirlpool bath because someone said it was dangerous. I'm 53, in good health; I'm not obese and don't have a heart condition. What is your opinion?
A. I'd be interested in hearing the reason given for the danger. A possibility might be the lack of adequate cool-down.
After vigorous exercise, blood pools in those areas of the body involved in the exercise. Combine that with the fact that hot water immediately draws blood toward the skin and there's a potential for danger if you exercise hard and then hop into a hot shower or whirlpool. It can place an extra burden on the old ticker. Dizziness can occur, or a serious problem could be triggered if there's any type of heart disorder.
That's why it's important to have a cooling- down period after your exercise program. It helps redistribute the blood back into the central circulatory system. It also allows your heart rate to decline gradually.
Remember that the majority of serious heart complications occur within a short period following an exercise period, not during the exercise. It's believed that some of these heart problems could be avoided with a proper cool-down.
What is a proper cool-down? Try to allow a minimum of five minutes. Never just stop after vigorous exercise. Keep moving. If swimming is the activity, try walking in the shallow end of the pool. Or just paddle around slowly if there's room. After running, move from your running pace to a jog, to a brisk walk, to a slow walk. Walk for at least three to five minutes. You should see your heart rate drop below 100 during this period.
I'm not a doctor, so I can't give you any medical advice. Contact your doctor and find out if or why it's dangerous for you to hop in the whirlpool after swimming. In your letter you indicated how much you enjoyed boiling in the tub. It's a great way to relax if it doesn't adversely affect your health.
Tell your doctor that you're cooling down correctly. I don't think the whirlpool should present a problem -- if you don't have a heart ailment, and if you include the cool-down as part of your exercise program. Explain to your doctor that you recently quit the whirlpool after swimming, but that you were never bothered by it before.
I'd hate to see you drop something that you enjoy so much if it doesn't present a risk to your health. As long as the water isn't so hot that it's boiling your brain, I don't think your doctor will ask you to abstain. If he does, perhaps he'd okay the whirlpool before you swim.