After a bad night’s sleep, many of us turn to caffeine for a short burst of energy. A new study, however, suggests that we may be better off taking a 10-minute walk up and down the stairs.

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Researchers say that walking up and down stairs may be more effective than caffeine for increasing energy and motivation.

Researchers from the University of Georgia found that sleep-deprived adults who walked up and down stairs at a regular pace for 10 minutes felt more energized and motivated than those who consumed 50 milligrams of caffeine – the equivalent to one can of soda.

Study co-author Patrick J. O’Connor, of the Department of Kinesiology at Georgia, and colleagues say that their findings are good news for office workers, who often find it hard to pry themselves away from their desks.

“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.”

The team recently published their findings in the journal Physiology and Behavior.

The research involved 18 female college students aged between 18 and 23 years who reported having chronic sleep deprivation – defined in this study as getting under 6.5 hours of sleep each night.

Participants were required to complete tests that assessed their working memory, attention, reaction time, work motivation, and mood states under two separate conditions.

In one condition, subjects completed the tests after taking a capsule containing either 50 milligrams of caffeine or a placebo. In the other condition, tests were completed after the participants had walked up and down 30 floors of stairs at a regular pace for around 10 minutes.

The team found that under the stair-walking condition, participants reported greater motivation to work and an increase in energy, compared with those under the caffeine condition.

“We found, in both the caffeine and the placebo conditions, that there was not much change in how they felt,” says O’Connor. “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.”

Neither caffeine nor stair-walking appeared to affect subjects’ attention or memory, the team notes.

O’Connor and colleagues say that further research is warranted to better establish the benefits of stair-walking for sleep-deprived individuals.

Still, they believe that their findings suggest that just 10 minutes of walking may be more beneficial than a dose of caffeine when it comes to energy and motivation in the workplace.

“You may not have time to go for a swim, but you might have 10 minutes to walk up and down the stairs,” notes O’Connor.

Learn why some people fail to respond to exercise.