I Replaced My Morning Coffee With A Walk—Here's What I Learned

Could I power through the AM without a jolt of caffeine to get me going?

December 6, 2017
woman walking
fizkes/Getty Images

Using coffee as a crutch to soldier through a hectic morning has become a way of life for me. So when my sister told me she fuels her mornings with a power walk instead of a caffeine boost, I was curious to see if I could do the same—and if it would have the same energizing effect on me. (If morning java is a must for you, try these 6 new ways to flavor your coffee without added sugar.)

I live in New York City, so I walk everyday to and from the subway, but I don't normally walk first thing in the morning after my alarm goes off. I wanted to see if I could increase my daily activity and decrease my caffeine intake in the process. While I love the taste of coffee, it gives me the jitters when I drink too much, especially in the morning on an empty stomach. Since I already enjoy long walks on the weekends and on my lunch breaks, I figured adding one to my mornings would be a simple swap. My goal wasn't to cut out coffee completely, but rather to boost my energy more naturally.

The following Monday, I set out on a weeklong experiment to see if I could replace my morning java with a mindful walk. I chose Monday because research shows that it’s the best day to tackle a new routine (and follow through with it the rest of the week). Each day, I would wake up at 7 AM, get dressed right away, and head outside for about 30 minutes of nature and physical activity.

Or maybe ditch your walk, run, or coffee, and go weed your garden:

Despite my determination, this challenge turned out to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. Here's what I learned when I put down my coffee mug and put on my walking shoes:

cup of coffee
Getty Images
My caffeine dependency became clear

The first few days were rough. Normally, I drink coffee as soon as I step out of bed, so it made sense to start my walks the same way—even if the last thing I wanted to do was head outside at sunrise. Though my walking was invigorating, it took a few days of trial runs to really get going. A couple days into the experiment I was left with a caffeine withdrawal that left me sluggish and unmotivated. Although some days I managed to cut out coffee completely, other days it seemed nearly impossible to go without it, so I gave myself until noon to reach for that first dose of caffeine, but only if I absolutely needed it. I'm glad I stuck with this challenge, though, because I soon realized there are a few vital boons to be gained from getting outside before I start my day.

Related: 8 Things That Happen When You Quit Caffeine

walking path
Concetta Smith
I had more lasting energy

Walking guided me into the morning with a steady stream of energy, and I always felt revived after my morning jaunt. It’s well-known that exercise revs metabolism and increases blood and oxygen flow. Like most physical activities, walking elevates your pulse, delivering more oxygen to your brain and body, so the faster you do it the more "alive" it makes you feel. Research even shows that physical activity not only gets your heart pumping, but gets your brain in gear, too. (More on that soon.)

The energy I gained from walking seemed to outlast that initial cup of coffee, and here's why: While caffeine normally kicks me into action, it also leaves me with a nasty crash of low energy. That mid-morning slump usually requires another coffee to keep me running on high speed. However, walking increased my circulation and gave me a jolt of energy without the rapid descent. Although I did feel tired around noon, it was more like a gentle decline in energy, not the hazy pit of despair that a caffeine crash sometimes causes.

Related: Top 10 Best New Walking Shoes

Advertisement
Advertisement
 
walking in a neighborhood
Concetta Smith
My creativity got a boost

Studies have shown that a walk in the forest has positive effects on the brain’s chemistry. In a big city, I can’t exactly forest-bathe every morning, so I wanted to find a serene setting that was unlike my usual rush hour commute. When day broke, I ambled among tree-lined streets and a nearby park, catching glimpses of the surrounding nature and historic architecture. Simply gazing at the colorful foliage and detailed designs of the buildings was relaxing. Because I wasn’t fixated on a set destination (like work), I felt centered in the moment.

Surprisingly, this mind-numbing activity cleared the cobwebs for a fresh start to my morning. Instead of stressing about the busy workday, I focused on the positive aspects of my life. (Here's why being grateful leads to happiness—and not the other way around.) The exercise also sparked creativity and benefited my work as a writer, which requires me to come up with fresh stories. My thoughts naturally wandered into new ideas that would later feed my productivity throughout the day and inspire creative problem solving.

toilet paper
Getty Images
I spent less time on the toilet

In addition to relieving stress, I also spent less time relieving myself. In other words, drinking coffee had me chained to the toilet the first half of the morning. Swapping caffeine for a walk changed all that. Since coffee is a stimulant and a diuretic, drinking a couple cups before work had me toilet-bound and subsequently feeling dehydrated. I realized I spent a large portion of my morning burdened by running in and out of the bathroom. Consequently I felt perpetually dehydrated and overly occupied with trying to replenish the fluids I had lost due to my caffeine consumption. When I replaced my coffee for a leisurely walk, I found myself peeing a lot less. (This is the best water bottle for people who hate drinking water.)

Related: 7 Things The Color Of Your Pee Says About Your Health

feet in bed
Getty Images
Nothing replaces a good night's rest

When I embarked on this journey I thought it would be a cakewalk, but boy was I wrong! The most difficult part about the experiment was not the walking, but surrendering my morning coffee. Like most 9-to-5ers, I rely heavily on caffeine to carry me through the early morning. On normal occasions, walking boosts my mood and clears my head, but it didn’t seem to work as well if I was sleep deprived. After a long night of poor sleep, I woke up feeling groggy and grumpy. Even after an early morning walk, that listless feeling persisted throughout the afternoon.

The fact is, our bodies need sleep and there is no real replacement for rest. Although a mindful morning walk gave me steady energy and fueled my creativity, it didn’t improve my mood or increase my ability to focus if I just didn’t get enough shut-eye. The biggest revelation of this experiment was realizing that I just need more sleep and have to figure out ways to get it, like going to bed earlier and turning off all digital devices at least an hour before I go to bed. (Try these 12 foolproof natural sleep remedies that experts swear by.)

Related: Can White Noise Help You Sleep Better?

Although walking won't be replacing my coffee every day, this experiment did help me discover self discipline and a solid way to relieve stress. Instead of ruminating when I'm faced with a taxing situation, I walk for mental clarity when I want to solve a problem or get creative. It also helps me stay in shape. On occasions when I do have the energy, I'll step out and enjoy a morning stroll along with a breath of fresh air, and maybe I'll do that with a nice big cup of coffee for an even bigger boost of energy!

The article I Replaced My Morning Coffee With A Walk. Here's What I Learned. originally appeared on Prevention.