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Want More Energy? Skip the Coffee, Opt for the Stairs

Need an energy boost during the afternoon at the office? A jolt of caffeine isn’t as effective as walking up and down some stairs, says a new study from the University of Georgia.

The study, which was published in the journal Physiology and Behavior found that walking up and down stairs for 10 minutes gave volunteers more energy than ingesting 50 milligrams of caffeine — about the amount in a can of soda.

When giving volunteers either caffeine or a placebo, “there was not much change in how they felt,” said Patrick J. O’Connor, a professor in the department of kinesiology. “But with exercise they did feel more energetic and vigorous.”

The study wanted to duplicate the problems office workers, who spend hours staring at a computer screen, faced when trying to boost their energy to avoid mid-afternoon slumps when long bouts of exercise weren’t possible.

For the study, women college students 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’s an option to keep some fitness while taking a short break from work.”

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.

While neither caffeine nor exercise caused large improvements in attention or memory, walking up and down stairs was associated with a small increase in motivation for work.

The study found that even a brief amount of time walking up and down stairs can boost energy without reducing cognitive function. “You may not have time to go for a swim, but you might have 10 minutes to walk up and down the stairs,” O’Connor said.

Another way to boost your energy in the afternoon is to eat dark chocolate.

Volunteers at the University of Northern Arizona University ate dark chocolate containing at least 60 percent cacao beans or a placebo product, then did thinking and memory activities while undergoing EKGs of their brains. Those who ate the chocolate were more alert.

“A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and can’t pay attention, so we could have a higher cacao content chocolate bar and it would increase attention,” said Larry Stevens, a professor of psychological sciences at NAU. “Chocolate is indeed a stimulant and it activates the brain in a really special way.”

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