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Study Finds Exercise Can Boost Memory & Fight Caffeine Withdrawal

Eliza Sullivan
January 20, 2020
Eliza Sullivan
mbg Nutrition & Health Writer
By Eliza Sullivan
mbg Nutrition & Health Writer
Eliza Sullivan is a food writer and SEO editor at mindbodygreen. She writes about food, recipes, and nutrition—among other things. She studied journalism at Boston University.
Image by Ivan Gener / Stocksy
January 20, 2020

Thinking about quitting caffeine but worried about the adverse effects? Researchers may have found a quick (and multi-beneficial) way to boost memory without caffeine. A recent study published in Nature Scientific Reports found that as little as 20 minutes of exercise can boost your memory as well as, or even better than, a cup of coffee.

How did caffeine and exercise stack up?

Researchers at the Exercise and Health Psychology Lab at Western University tested groups by first assessing the working memory of caffeine and non-caffeine consumers1. After this, participants either consumed caffeine or exercised.

Twelve hours later, their working memory was evaluated again, and they also reported caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Both exercise and caffeine improved working memory, but the exercise had the added benefit of reducing caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

But what is working memory? It helps control how we recall and store knowledge, making it an important component for day-to-day activities like reading a book or remembering what to buy at the grocery store.

While previous studies have shown that caffeine or exercise can help memory, this study was the first to compare the two head-to-head. Caffeine has been strongly linked to boosted memory, and coffee, in particular, has even been linked to preventing cognitive decline2.

In the end, this study found that a 20-minute brisk walk, which was the form of exercise used in the study, was actually better for both people who regularly consumed caffeine and people who didn't—meaning you don't have to be either a strict coffee drinker or caffeine abstainer to reap the benefits of a quick workout on your memory.

A quick workout may also help make it easier for you to quit caffeine.

Not only does this study show us that a mere 20 minutes of exercise can have serious implications for our memories, but it also shows that it's a great candidate for replacing our daily caffeine intake as it can also help diminish the negative impacts of quitting.

One of the most common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal is persistent headaches. There have been links between exercise and a cure for headaches before, so this new link between caffeine withdrawal and exercise isn't entirely a surprise.

Other symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include fatigue (obviously), decreased contentedness, and decreased alertness. The endorphins released with exercise may help alleviate these symptoms, as they are known to improve mood.

If you are looking to kick your habit but still need something to fill the space in your morning, check out these teas that may help fill the coffee void, regardless of how you take your coffee. And if you want to give the results of this study a try by replacing caffeine with a 20-minute workout, check out this class to get started.

Eliza Sullivan author page.
Eliza Sullivan
mbg Nutrition & Health Writer

Eliza Sullivan is an SEO Editor at mindbodygreen, where she writes about food, recipes, and nutrition—among other things. She received a B.S. in journalism and B.A. in english literature with honors from Boston University, and she has previously written for Boston Magazine,, and SUITCASE magazine.