ATHENS, Ga. — It’s not uncommon for people to hit a wall in the afternoon after an exhausting day of work, but a new study finds that a quick walk up and down a flight of stairs packs a more powerful and restorative buzz than the caffeine from a can of soda.
Researchers at the University of Georgia studied female college students who struggled with getting a good night’s sleep — typically recording less than the recommended 6.5 hours per night. The participants were tasked with completing both verbal and computer-based tests that determined their level of cognitive ability after consuming a caffeine pill, placebo pill, or exercising on different days.
The caffeine pill contained 50 mg of the drug, about the same amount you’d find in a can of soda. The exercise consisted of the students walking up and down a flight of stairs for 10 minutes (equal to about 30 floors) at a low-intensity pace.
Researchers found that while neither the caffeine nor the stair-walking resulted in significant boosts when it came to attention or memory, the staircase exercise showed a small, but notable increase in motivation to complete the tasks.
“We found, in both the caffeine and the placebo conditions, that there was not much change in how they felt,” says study co-author Patrick J. O’Connor, a professor in the department of kinesiology, in a university news release. “But with exercise they did feel more energetic and vigorous. It was a temporary feeling, felt immediately after the exercise, but with the 50 milligrams of caffeine, we didn’t get as big an effect.”
The researchers found the study to be especially valuable to people stuck in an office and sitting at desks for hours. Such a lifestyle may prevent people from getting regular exercise, but 10 minutes on the stairs may motivate more office workers to slip away from the computer screen and recharge themselves.
“Office workers can go outside and walk, but weather can be less than ideal. It has never rained on me while walking the stairs,” says O’Connor. “And a lot of people working in office buildings have access to stairs, so it’s an option to keep some fitness while taking a short break from work.”
He adds: “You may not have time to go for a swim, but you might have 10 minutes to walk up and down the stairs.”
In comparison to a typical cup of coffee, a can of soda has about half the amount of caffeine.
The study was published in the journal Physiology and Behavior.