7 energizing moves to replace your afternoon coffee habit

Does the midday slump hit you hard? Skip the caffeine and get your blood flowing with these exercises instead.
Image: Woman doing stretching exercise in her office
When fatigue sets in, your first instinct may be to grab a coffee. But standing up and stretching can stimulate blood flow and boost energy. Westend61 / Getty Images
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By Stephanie Mansour

Does sitting at a desk all day leave you in desperate need of a midday pick-me-up? Reaching for a coffee or a soda in the afternoon may help to give you that little boost to make it through the rest of your workday, but you'll also end up paying for it in one way or another.

Research has shown that the average American spends $1.38 per cup of coffee. When you do the math, that adds up quickly! One cup of coffee per day during a typical work schedule would lead you to pay almost $400 a year just on your afternoon pick-me-up. (And that total easily doubles if you are in a major city or prefer a fancier beverage like a latte). And unless you drink your coffee black, all the different add-ins can quickly rack up the calories and sugar. A popular summer drink at Starbucks, the iced caramel macchiato, will set you back 250 calories and 34 grams of sugar in a medium cup.

Plus, that afternoon cup of joe may affect your sleep quality.

Can your afternoon coffee habit keep you up at night?

Denise Pate, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Medical Offices of Manhattan, says that while caffeine may be a potent stimulus for some, it may have little to no effect for others. “Depending on how caffeine impacts a person should help predict how it can effect their sleep quality. Three major factors come into play,” she says, your metabolism, tolerance and amount consumed.

“Caffeine binds and blocks receptors that contribute to sleepiness. Individuals can have varied numbers of receptors and caffeine’s ability to bind to these receptors can be variable too,” Dr. Pate explains. “Due to these variables one person may be sensitive to even the smallest amount of caffeine, meanwhile another person may need a higher quantity of caffeine to have similar effect.”

Your tolerance and the amount you consume on a regular basis go hand in hand. “Caffeine ‘naïve’ people will only need small amount of exposure to feel the stimulus,” says Pate. “The third factor depends on the quantity of caffeine that is consumed. An 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has approximately 95 mg of caffeine meanwhile a 12-ounce cup of cold brew coffee can contain between 153 mg and 238 mg.”

The antidote to afternoon drowsiness: movement

One reason you may feel the urge to reach for a cup of coffee in the afternoon is because sitting at your desk and focusing on your computer can trick your body into thinking it’s time to sleep. “This stillness can force the body into thinking you are prepping for bedtime,” says Pate. “Dehydration and a natural drop in body temperature that comes in the afternoon can also lead to sensation of fatigue. It is best to get up and walk around; this will warm your body and stimulate blood flow.”

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Getting out of your chair and doing a few stretches is a fantastic way to get your blood flowing and beat this energy lag. Instead of heading for the coffee shop, I encourage my clients do these exercises to naturally boost their energy with movement and breath — no caffeine needed! This yoga stretching routine can be repeated daily in your office or occasionally when you feel you need a little pick-me-up.

7 stretches for a midday pick-me-up

Sphinx pose

Lying on your stomach, place your elbows on the floor under your shoulders, in line with your chest. Reach your forearms and hands out in front of you. Pull your naval in towards your spine, and push an imaginary marble forward with your nose to lift up your head, neck and chest, pressing down through your hands and forearms. Press down through the hands as if you’re trying to pull the mat towards your body and draw the shoulder heads back. Hold this for 3 breaths, and then release. Repeat 5 times. As you breathe in, think of expanding the chest to breathe in more energy.

Cobra

A more advanced version of sphinx pose, this pose requires more strength and flexibility in the low back. It’s also more of an intense chest opener than sphinx pose. Place your hands on the floor alongside your chest and push an imaginary marble forward with your nose to lift up your head, neck, and chest. Press down firmly through your hands and hug your elbows in towards your sides. Pull your naval in towards your spine and press your thighs down into the ground. Bring the shoulders back and lift the chin up. Take a few deep breaths, and relax. Repeat 5 times.

Upward facing dog

The final progression of the previous two exercises requires more spinal strength and flexibility to perform properly. Press your hands into the ground on the outside of your chest, bring the head and neck up, and straighten the arms. Lift the thighs up off of the ground and press down with the tops of your feet. In this position, only the tops of your feet and palms of the hands are touching the ground. Take 2 deep breaths here, and then release down. Repeat 5 times.

Bridge pose

Lying on your back, bend your knees and press your feet into the ground. Reach your arms forward towards your heels and try to touch them. Then slowly press your low back into the ground. Lift your butt, then low back, then middle back up off of the ground and come up into a bridge position. Press down firmly with your hands.

Advanced Bridge Pose: To make this move more intense, clasp your hands underneath your back and roll your shoulder heads back so that your chest is puffing up towards the ceiling. Hold for 5 breaths, and then release.

Wheel

The most advanced back bend in this sequence requires strength and flexibility. (I recommend doing this first with a yoga instructor spotting you.) For Wheel, first come up into Bridge Pose. Then, place your hands flat on the ground alongside your ears. Come up onto the top of your head, and then press down through the feet and hands to come up into Wheel Pose. Reach the chest towards the back of the room, and take 3 slow deep breaths in and out. To come down, gently bend your elbows and tuck your chin into your chest. Touch the top of your head onto the ground, and then slowly roll your neck and upper back down onto the ground until you’re all the way down on the ground. Rest here for a few breaths.

Swaying forward fold

Standing tall, hinge forward at your waist to lower down into a forward fold. Allow your head and neck to dangle down. Holding on to opposite elbows, sway forward and back, and side to side. This will help calm the nervous system. Hold for a few breaths, then release and slowly roll back up to standing.

Intentional yoga cardio

Starting in a forward fold, slowly stand up and bring your arms by your sides as you breath in. Then reach the arms to the sides as you exhale. Inhale as you bring the arms up overhead, then exhale as you fold forward. Repeat 10 times.

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