It’s no secret that the modern world presents a set of challenges as we try to balance work, family life, health and keep up with the often ambitious expectations of what we can achieve. With all of these pressures we can experience persistent stress. But did you know that your daily stress can also be chronic? Chronic stress is defined as prolonged and unaddressed stress, and may potentially pose serious risks to our health (1).
The experience of stress is unavoidable, but how we respond to stressful situations can be under our control. An easy yet effective way to address the harmful effects of stress through a practical, manageable, and sustainable approach is by kickstarting your mornings with exercise.
Yes, gentle exercise to reduce stress, such as stretching, can help curb the progression of chronic stress. You don’t have to be on the level of a competitive athlete or engage in vigorous physical activity to combat stress. Rather, the keys are discipline and consistency.
The link between exercise and stress
When it comes to exercise and stress, arguably the most challenging part is getting up in the morning and taking the first steps to get moving. But once those muscles are warmed up and joints are lubricated, you’ll find that beginning with exercise to reduce stress is the best way to start your day.
Many studies have been able to establish the positive connection between exercise and stress. Exercise boosts the production of endorphins, otherwise known as one of the body’s feel-good hormones.
You also strengthen your body to make it more resilient to the effects of stress. Exercise to reduce stress also strengthens the cardiovascular and immune systems, both of which play crucial roles in the body’s healthy stress response.
Exercise often involves a series of motions that helps you focus on your movements, breathing, and muscles, the deliberate repetition of which can have therapeutic benefits (3). Exercise also helps improve sleep and could very well help you to wake up feeling refreshed and energised the next morning.
Gentle stretches and exercise to reduce stress
Below are options of stretches and gentle exercises to reduce stress. These exercises can be performed by anyone regardless of level of physical fitness:
Although breathing exercises are not strictly an exercise, starting your physical routine with a simple breathing technique will prepare your body and mind for what’s to come.
One breathing exercise to try is the 4-4-8 breathing technique. Breathe in through the nose for four counts, then hold your breath for another four counts. Afterwards, release your breath through the mouth over eight seconds. Repeat this for three to four cycles, then breathe normally. Focus on your breath, feeling your inhale and exhale in your abdomen, and releasing tension in your body (4).
Start by lying flat on your back with your legs stretched out in front of you on the floor. Then, slowly bend your knees and pull them towards your chest, holding them in position with your hands. Hold for a few seconds then return to the starting position.
Repeat this for two to four times, with each hold lasting for 10 to 30 seconds each. You should feel a mild stretch while remaining still during the entire routine.
Floor hip flexor stretch
The hip flexor stretch is a variation of the knee-to-chest stretch. Instead of pulling both legs towards your chest, you only pull one leg at a time. At the same time, your other foot (which remains on the floor) should be flexed (toes pointing forwards) as you stretch the other leg.
Start this stretch by lying on your stomach on the floor or exercise mat with your hands placed just below your shoulders. Your palms should face down with fingers pressed together. Your legs should be outstretched, with your toes pointed and flexed.
With your palms pressed on the floor, slowly lift your head, shoulders, and chest. Your legs will remain on the floor as you lift your upper body. Keep your elbows back as you gently push upwards. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds. Afterwards, slowly return to the starting position. Do this for two to four times.
Seated shoulder and triceps stretch
Instead of lying on the floor, these stretches require sitting on a chair. Start by sitting up straight for the shoulder stretch. Extend one arm in front of you and stretch it out towards the opposite side, holding your elbow with your other arm. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds. Do the same for the other side and repeat this cycle for two to four times.
For the triceps stretch, place one hand on the shoulder of the same side. Keeping your shoulders down, hold your elbow with the hand on the opposite side. Slowly, lift this bent arm towards the ceiling. It should feel tight, but not painful. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat this for two to four times.
Mineral and vitamin supplements to accompany exercise to reduce stress
Apart from morning stretches and other forms of exercise to reduce stress, you may also want to consider incorporating mineral and vitamin supplements in your healthy lifestyle. While they should be consumed from a well-rounded diet, supplementation can help you achieve your recommended daily amount. Vitamins and minerals can strengthen your body in various ways, leading to overall better health and more effective stress response.
Here are some examples of such mineral and vitamin supplements that can accompany your morning exercises to combat stress:
Magnesium is an essential part of energy production. It assists with breaking down glucose which the body needs to create energy (5). Fueling the body with more energy means getting to do more exercise, the ultimate benefit of which is reduced stress. It also helps support muscle relaxation and helps reduce the occurrence of muscle cramps.
Vitamin B complex
The eight B vitamins that make up vitamin B complex are key cofactors important in production of energy and play a role in energy storage and release (6). The biggest benefit vitamin B complex provides us is maintaining a healthy stress response—something that you need every day (7). Some studies have also found that the B group of vitamins may reduce symptoms of stress and mild anxiety (15).
Vitamin B12 in particular, is an immunomodulator (or a substance that has an effect on the immune system) for cellular immunity (6). It supports healthy immune system function and supports energy production, which can be helpful for exercise to reduce stress.
Calcium is a major mineral that makes up strong, healthy bones. But apart from this, calcium is also essential in maintaining general health and well-being (6). Sufficient daily intake of this mineral can also support muscle function to help with exercise (8).
Ashwagandha is a herb that has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Its potential to enhance body adaptation to stress, support healthy stress response in the body, and relieve symptoms of mild anxiety is well-regarded by its traditional users and has gained traction in the West in recent years. Ashwagandha also helps maintain physical endurance and support muscle strength.
Gingko & Brahmi
Ginkgo, which is combined with Brahmi in some cases, have both stress and mild anxiety-reducing effects (13) by enhancing the body’s adaptation to stress and relieving symptoms of stress (14) . When taken to accompany exercise to reduce stress, this herbal remedy’s effects are magnified.
Taking mineral and vitamin supplements while doing regular gentle exercise to reduce stress can be an effective way to combat stress. Combined with a healthy and well-balanced diet, you can be one step closer to overcoming the daily challenges of the modern world.
Vitable Australia offers custom vitamin packs that are suited for your specific needs - including stress. Getting your vitamin packs with us is made easy as it comes with vitamin delivery services that get your personalised vitamin packs sent right to your doorstep.
Find out more about other areas that the above supplements can help you with:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
- July 2021 on https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Better Health. “Hormones–cortisol and corticosteroids.” Published on n.d. on https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/Hormones-cortisol-and-corticosteroids. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills.” Published on 15 February 2021 on https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-can-boost-your-memory-and-thinking-skills. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- University of California, Berkeley University Health Services. “Mindful Stretching Guide.” Published on n.d. on https://uhs.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/wellness-mindfulstretchingguide.pdf. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- William Jahnen-Dechent, et.al. “Magnesium Basics.” Published on February 2012 on https://academic.oup.com/ckj/article/5/Suppl_1/i3/447534. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Braun, L., et.al. “Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide Volume 2. 4th ed.” Published on 2015 on n.a. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Whitney, E., et.al. “Understanding Nutrition Australia and New Zealand Edition 2nd. Ed.” Published on 2014 on n.a. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Finsterer, J. “Biomarkers of peripheral muscle fatigue during exercise.” Published on 08 November 2012 on https://bmcmusculoskeletdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2474-13-218. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- S.K. Battacharya, et.al. “Adaptogenic activity of Withania somnifera: an experimental study using a rat model of chronic stress.” Published on June 2003 on https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0091305703001102?via%3Dihub. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- K. Chandrasekhar, et.al. “A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults.” Published on 1 July 2012 on https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.4103/0253-7176.106022. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Anil Kumar, et.al. “Protective effect of Withania somnifera Dunal on the behavioral and biochemical alterations in sleep-disturbed mice (Grid over water suspended method.” Published on June 2007 on https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17585686/. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Deepak Langade, et.al. “Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled study.” Published on 28 September 2019 on https://www.cureus.com/articles/22928-efficacy-and-safety-of-ashwagandha-withania-somnifera-root-extract-in-insomnia-and-anxiety-a-double-blind-randomized-placebo-controlled-study. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Thalita Thais Faustino, et.al. “Medicinal plants in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: a review of controlled clinical trials.” Published on December 2010 on https://www.scielo.br/j/rbp/a/3ySL59xfdNRSk6JPNrHBPhN/?lang=pt. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Naila Sheikh, et.al. “Effect of bacopa monniera on stress induced changes in plasma corticosterone and brain monoamines in rats.” Published on 22 May 2007 on https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874107000438?via%3Dihub. Accessed on 7 October 2021.
- Stough, et. al. “Reducing occupational stress with a B-vitamin focussed intervention: a randomized clinical trial: study protocol”. Published December 2014 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290459/. Accessed on 13 October 2021.
- Almeida, O. et. al., “B vitamins to enhance treatment response to antidepressants in middle-aged and older adults: results from the B-VITAGE randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial”. Published September 2014 on https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25257064/. Accessed on 13 October 2021.