A quick walk up and down a flight of stairs packs a more powerful and restorative buzz than a midday jolt of caffeine, according to new research. Researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) in the US found that 10 minutes of walking up and down stairs at a regular pace was more likely to make participants feel energised than ingesting 50 milligrammes of caffeine – equivalent to the amount in a can of soda. “We found, in both the caffeine and the placebo conditions, that there was not much change in how they felt,” said Patrick J O’Connor, a professor at UGA’s department of kinesiology.
“But with exercise, they did feel more energetic and vigorous. It was a temporary feeling, felt immediately after the exercise, but with the 50 milligrammes of caffeine, we did not get as big an effect,” said J O’Connor. The study aimed to simulate the hurdles faced in a typical office setting, where workers spend hours sitting and staring at computer screens and do not have time for a longer bout of exercise during the day. For the study, participants on separate days either ingested capsules containing caffeine or a placebo or spent 10 minutes walking up and down stairs – about 30 floors total – at a low-intensity pace.
“Office workers can go outside and walk, but weather can be less than ideal. It has never rained on me while walking the stairs,” said O’Connor. “And a lot of people working in office buildings have access to stairs, so it is an option to keep some fitness while taking a short break from work,” he said. Study participants were female college students who described themselves as chronically sleep deprived – getting less than six and a half hours per night of shut eye.
To test the effects of caffeine versus the exercise, each group took some verbal and computer-based tests to gauge how they felt and how well they performed certain cognitive tasks.Neither caffeine nor exercise caused large improvements in attention or memory, but stair walking was associated with a small increase in motivation for work. The study was published in the journal Physiology and Behaviour.