For women running on little sleep, 10 minutes of stair walking increased energy more than the amount of caffeine in a soft drink or half a cup of coffee, according to a small study from the University of Georgia in Athens.
This energy boost is relatively short, though, and overtired workers may need to do a few bouts of exercise throughout the day to keep up energy long term.
To compare the effects of caffeine and exercise on energy level, the study team recruited 18 female college students with average caffeine intake and physical activity levels.
The women in the study were also relatively sleep-deprived, with all reporting sleeping 6.5 hours or less per night.
Before starting the experiment, the women answered questions assessing their feelings of energy or vigor and their motivation levels.
The women also completed cognitive tests measuring their attention, short-term memory and reaction times.
Participants then received either a placebo pill, a caffeine pill containing 50 mg of caffeine (equivalent to a 16-ounce cola or 4 ounces of coffee), or completed a 10-minute stair-walking exercise.
After receiving a pill or doing the exercise, the women completed the cognitive tests and questionnaires two more times, 30 minutes and 50 minutes later. The women also rated their feelings of energy a third time, about an hour and 15 minutes after the experiment.
The experiment was repeated two more times over three days, to ensure that each woman experienced each experimental condition.
The researchers found that women who did 10 minutes of stair-walking reported significantly higher levels of energy than women who took the caffeine equivalent of a large can of soda.
This effect lessened over time, though, and the caffeine and exercise groups had similar energy levels an hour after the experiment.
The interventions did not significantly affect attention, memory, or reaction time.
Although effect of exercise in this study was fairly short-lived, other studies suggest that multiple short bouts of exercise spread throughout the workday can offer more long-lasting energy.
Everyday ways to boost exercise and energy include, taking the stairs versus the elevator, parking in a further parking spot to increase walking distance, walking or cycling to work or school instead of driving, and taking walking breaks.
For sleep deprived office workers, taking a 10-minute break to climb the stairs can help boost energy.
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