Exercise has countless benefits, including the prevention of depression, staying flexible, and building stronger muscles. Keeping active boosts energy and even helps improve certain health conditions. As positive as exercise is, however, failing to take care of your body before hitting the treadmill or the weight room can have painful consequences. There are many ways to treat muscle soreness resulting from exercise, from both a preventative and reactive perspective.

Stretch first

While working out, the muscles contract, becoming shorter and tighter. Though expert opinions vary, many professionals agree that stretching before and after a good workout prepares the muscles and lengthens them again, assisting with mobility. Incorporating yoga, pilates, and other flexibility practices into one's warm-up and cool-down can alleviate post-workout aches. Be sure to stretch only when the muscles are warmed up from gentle activity.

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Have a light snack

Healthy proteins, carbs, and fats are essential to a well-rounded workout plan. Eating a small protein and carbohydrate-rich meal after a workout will help ease muscle soreness by repairing and maintaining muscles and connective tissue. Also, tart cherries make a great post-exercise snack that speeds recovery because they're rich in antioxidants that can ease muscle soreness.

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Enjoy the heat

Focused heat, like that from a jacuzzi, can help relieve pain after working out. Warm water increases circulation, which can ease stiffness and increase the speed at which muscles and connective tissues repair. However, some studies suggest that too much hot water after an intense workout can have negative results by interrupting the body's ability to activate the nervous system's parasympathetic reaction, a process that aids muscle recovery.

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Keep moving

Things like gentle yoga and leisurely walks are great post-workout options. Though many people just want to collapse on the couch after an intense cardio or strength workout, being completely still after extensive movement is more likely to make muscles seize up. This is due to lactic acid build-up in the muscles post-workout. Instead, slow down the exercise gradually with cool-down stretches or a walk.

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Try some cold therapy

Jumping into an ice bath after a fierce workout, even for just a few minutes, can significantly reduce pain and muscle soreness. This tried-and-true tip for reducing post-exercise pain is used by countless athletes around the world. Some recent studies, however, suggest that cold therapy like ice baths can impede advances in performance for some people.

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Always drink up

Staying hydrated is important at all stages of a workout. Fluids keep the muscles from cramping up and remaining tight. Drinking water also reduces inflammation. Though there are many sports drinks available in the fitness world, plain water or coconut water are usually better options because they contain fewer or no additives like sugar.

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Balance weights

When preparing for a workout, make sure to balance the weight on each side of the body. It can be detrimental to focus on one side. While many athletes alternate between arm days and leg days, they are always working out their left and right sides equally, and this helps prevent strain from one side overcompensating.

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Have a cup of black coffee

Caffeine contains adenosine, a pain-relieving substance similar to over-the-counter pain medications. Drinking caffeine before working out may help reduce muscle soreness and can, unsurprisingly, ease fatigue. Also, research shows that combining caffeine with other anti-inflammatories may provide even better pain-relief. That said, caffeine is a diuretic, so it is important to keep drinking enough water during or after the workout.

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Buy a massager

Drawing a massager over each dominant muscle group up to five times can help ease muscle pain. There are many types of massagers to suit many muscle locations. Hamstrings and the back can be relieved with a large foam roller, while smaller, hand-held options can relax tension in the arms.

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Eat fatty acids

Salmon, free-range meat, flax, avocado, and walnuts are excellent examples of omega-3 fatty acids that will help reduce inflammation that causes soreness after exercise. Talk to a nutritionist for more information about healthy omega-3 fatty acids and ways to incorporate them into your diet.

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