You’ve made it halfway through the year and now it’s the home stretch to the first year of good health. But in reality you’re just warming up. It’s time to understand the importance of a good warm-up and post stretching and how they’re just as beneficial as the workout itself.

If you watch professional sports, you’ve probably noticed how athletes will shoot or throw a few balls, run a lap or stretch it out before a game. A warm-up prepares your body for the intense activities about to take place because cold muscles are more vulnerable to injury.

Warming up increases your circulation gradually and helps pump oxygen-rich blood to the muscles making them more pliable. It readies your heart to avoid a rapid increase in blood pressure, and increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach your muscles and help prevent you from huffing and puffing later on. You should warm up before any strength training, aerobic exercise and even stretching.

Warm ups are a lower impact, less intense version of the sport you’re about to partake in. If you’re getting ready to run, go for a walk first. Thinking about taking a long ride on a stationary bike? Warm up with a slow mile. Light weights are a great way to warm up for arm-centered exercises, and a light stair climb is a good pre-workout for any kind of exercise.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, stretching should be part of your cool down. It’s not harmful to do pre-work out, and stretching first thing in the morning actually helps increase flexibility, but if you stretch before a workout it should be after the warm up.

Lactic acid builds up in the muscles when you work out leading to sore and exhausted muscles. Stretching post workout reduces muscle fatigue and increases blood circulation. It helps with recovery and prevents injury. If you’ve been working on this lifestyle since the beginning of the year you may remember how hard it was to keep it up after the first day because of how sore you felt. This is a great example of why you should always stretch after you work out. Stretching afterwards is good for mental health, too. Breathing through a stretch calms your mind and relaxes your body.

Establishing a warm-up and stretching habit to your routine has major health and mental benefits and is the best way to prevent injuries and ensures you’ll continue on your path.