Is It Bad to Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach?

For most of us, the answer is no. But your symptoms may worsen if you have a sensitive stomach, are predisposed to certain gastrointestinal conditions such as reflux, or already have damage to your stomach lining, says Kim Barrett, professor of physiology and membrane biology at the University of California at Davis’ School of Medicine, in The Washington Post.

The caffeine in that first shot of coffee may also increase the effect of cortisol, which is usually highest in the morning. Cortisol is the stress hormone that produces the fight-or-flight response and can also raise blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes and love your morning coffee, you might want to make sure you are combining healthy carbs with protein to balance out your blood sugar levels.

Even though coffee can be acidic and stimulate the production of stomach acid, this is not likely to be a problem for most people, and the stomach is “extremely well equipped to protect itself,” said Barrett.

Power Up Your Brain!

For a long time, exercise was seen as a way to keep our physical selves healthy. Now we know that it is good for our brains as well.

Large studies have shown that physical exercise can lead to better memory, improved thinking skills and can protect against conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease.


How can exercise change your brain?

Neuroplasticity is a term that describes your brain’s ability to change itself in response to various experiences or exposures. A review article published in Neural Plasticity in 2021 draws on many smaller studies to describe how exercise releases various chemicals that change the number and function of nerve cells (neurons) and their neighbouring support cells (astrocytes). It found exercise also improves blood flow to nerve cells in the brain and increases the connections between nerve cells.

Other studies using brain scans in people have shown that those who exercise have an increased size of the parts of their brain that control thinking and memory.

These findings support the growing understanding that exercise leads to structural and functional changes in the brain.

Scientific Reports published a study in 2023 that included data from more than 350,000 people. It showed that physical exercise leads to better memory, better thinking skills and lowers the risk of developing dementia.

What counts as exercise and how much do you need to do?

The research describes physical exercise as being different to just ‘activity’. To get the benefits of exercise for your brain, you need to aim for 30 minutes, five days a week of moderate exercise (for example a brisk walk, light jog) or 15 minutes fives days a week of more intense exercise. It takes six months before you start to see the benefits, so it is important to develop a habit and stick with it.

How does exercise help my brain overall?

As well as the changes the scientists saw in the structure and function of the brain, physical exercise is also known to help reduce stress and anxiety, improve your mood and often helps you get a better night’s sleep. This all contributes to better brain function.


Getting started

As tempting as it may be to strap on your running shoes and race out for brain health, if you are a novice exerciser, it is a good idea to start slow and build up. Aim for 10 minutes a day and build up to half an hour. Find something you enjoy whether that be a walking group, solo runs or a dance class. You want to start something you can stick to.


Finding your fit

1. Aerobic exercise. Studies show it is never too late to start. Get your blood pumping to boost blood flow to your brain.

2. Weight training. Research shows the benefit of weight training for both memory and other thinking skills. When you practice unfamiliar movements, you activate the nerve pathways in your brain.

3. Yoga. A 2016 University of California study showed that yoga can help your visual-spatial skills and some aspects of memory.

4. Tai Chi. Tai Chi combines both mental focus and movement. It often has a community aspect to it which is also helpful for making your brain feel good.

5. Dancing. A landmark 2003 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed regular dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76 per cent.

Geriatrician Dr Tabitha Hartwell reminds us ‘Exercise, preferably a mixture of aerobic, strength and stability, is the single most important factor in maintaining physical, mental and emotional health across your lifetime’.

Become A Joy Detective

Do you find yourself dreaming of a circuit breaker? A tropical holiday, a silent retreat, a hike through pristine wilderness? Anything to chase that elusive feeling of happiness and joy?

Dreams are lovely but often feel out of reach, or come around too rarely to sustain your joy levels. How then can you help yourself out of the ‘rut of doom’ you find yourself in? Experts suggest the answer might be in becoming conscious of the small moments of joy that exist in everyday life.

Joy is a tricky thing to define. It is often fleeting and is different for every person. Some consider joy to lie somewhere between happiness and ecstasy. Others say joy is a sense of wellbeing, of hope.

Joy is closely linked to the things that are important to us. For some, joy can be found in the feeling of the sun on their back on a winter’s day. It might be comfortable socks, the first bite of a peach, the opening notes of our favourite song. Joy might be walking in nature, patting a dog, the soft curl of a child’s hand reacting into your own.


What all these different experiences have in common is that they are often the quiet moments in your day that get missed when you are worried or rushing.

Author and mental health expert, Robyn Haney Dafoe, writes in Psychology Today, ‘Cultivating joy is a (re)learning how to foster a feeling of ease and a sense of hope, even when things might still be uncertain.’

This reminds us that bringing joy into our life is not about creating big moments, it is about finding joy where it already is. Becoming joy detectives.

Focusing on joy does not mean you deny things that are hard in your world. But it opens you up to see that both can exist at the same time, that there is room for joy in your life. Over time, your brain will more naturally tune into joyous moments, allowing you to experience happiness and hope more often across more of your day.

Another reason joy feels so good is that it brings energy and connection. Oxford University philosopher and leading joy researcher Matthew Johnson wrote in the Journal of Positive Psychology, ‘joy… is energising, joy is motivating’. He also describes joy as ‘a gathering emotion’. Harnessing that shared positive energy can help you keep going, even when things feel hard.

So perhaps rather than waiting for a grand expensive holiday, start now. Start small, start simple, look for the moments that bring an exhale, a drop of your shoulders, the ‘eye sparkle’ smile, the warm lift to your heart. Find the joy that is already there, waiting for you!


Finding joy

Try these tips to add more joy to your daily routine.

1. Get curious and creative.

It may be a while since you have thought about what makes you feel joyous. Instead of feeling daunted, get curious and creative! Try listening to different types of music, going for a walk, do a taste test of different foods to see what brings that smile to your face. Focus on the fun in the small things.

2. Do more of what feels good

Once you know what brings you joy, do more of it and give yourself time to savour the experience.

3. Think gratitude

Yale-Professor Laurie Santos teaches that joy is connected to appreciating particular things. Remembering to ‘count your blessings’ helps focus on the good things in your life that brings joy.

4. Be mindful

Slow down, connect to the moment, and adjust your expectations around what joy is. If you are only looking for grand moments, you will miss all those beautiful tiny daily bits of joy life gives you.

Eat Smarter

Apples


There is a certain pleasure in biting into a crisp apple, juice spraying. It is a childhood memory for many of us.

We now know the skin and those juices contain antioxidants and fibre that fight many diseases of the modern world.

Apples contain antioxidants called polyphenols, along with pectin which is a fibre and a prebiotic.


What do these things do?

Heart health

The polyphenols in apples are thought to reduce both total and LDL (or ‘bad’) cholesterol. They improve blood vessel health, which may reduce high blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Appetite

It was previously thought that the high water and fibre content helped us feel satiated after eating an apple. It is now thought that polyphenols also play a role in appetite suppression.

Gut microbiome

Recent research has shown the importance of the gut microbiome in overall health. Pectin is a prebiotic; it fosters growth of ‘good’ gut bacteria. A healthy microbiome is associated with a lower cancer risk, reduced risk of some inflammatory diseases and improved mental wellbeing.

Get those benefits!

Leave the skin on! Half the fibre and nearly all the polyphenols are contained in the skin. Eat the skin to get the most out of your snack.

1 Thing You Can Do Today

Make a meal plan


Combine decision fatigue with the cost of living crisis and it is easy to see how your stress levels peak around mealtimes. Making a meal plan might help.

Meal planning involves creating your weekly food menu ahead of time. Whilst there are plenty of people offering templates and ‘hacks’ at a cost, getting started can be as simple as using a pencil and the back of an envelope.

What are the benefits of meal planning?

Meal planning reduces the mental load of keeping yourself and your family fed, it lessens food waste and overall saves you time and money (no more after-work trips to the supermarket!).

Meal planning has also been shown to increase the diversity and quality of food people eat.

Easy ways to get started

1. Tackle dinners first. These are the meals that often end up as take-away if you leave the decision to the last minute.

2. If planning for a family, choose several meals you know are well received, then ask the kids or your partner to suggest something for the other nights.

3. Make your shopping list as you go. Online orders will save you even more time and reduce impulse buys.

4. Try doubling recipes. Leftovers can make great lunches or can be labelled and put in the freezer for another night. ‘Future you’ will thank you!

5. Do not expect perfection, you are human! If you skip a day, do not worry. Just pick up where you left off and keep on going.

Stepping Safely: Smarter Ways to Prevent Slips, Trips and Falls

Slips, trips and falls are some of the most common workplace hazards and can result in serious injuries.

To keep you and your colleagues safe, here are some tips to minimise the risk of accidents at work.

1. Beware of spills

Whether it is your morning green juice or a rogue plastic bag, unexpected spills on the floor are common causes of slips. Where possible, clean up small spills immediately to prevent accidents, otherwise let someone know so the cleaning crew can be called.

2. Keep your space tidy

Not only does keeping your desk drawers closed look neat, it also stops them becoming trip hazards. Keep things like handbags off the floor as well.

3. Mind the cords

Always use the power point closest to you and avoid trailing cables across walkways to prevent tripping hazards.

4. Pick up after yourself

A moment spent to scoop up stray pens can save you and your co-workers from potential slips or trips.

5. Use handrails on stairs

This is not a suggestion to slide down the handrails, fun as it may be! Always use handrails when going up or down stairs. It helps keep your balance and you are less likely to fall.

6. Maintain clear sightlines

Also known as watch where you are going! When carrying anything large, if you cannot see past your load, find another way to move it.

7. Furniture is not a ladder

Do not be tempted to save time and climb on the shelves or other furniture to reach high shelves. Do yourself a favour, get a ladder!

8. Mind your load

Be careful on stairs and uneven surfaces, especially if you are carrying something.

9. Watch your step

Keep hallways and walkways free from clutter. In rainy weather, take extra care entering the workplace as slips are more likely. Do not rush. We are all busier than ever before, but try and slow down – hurrying and frustration are big human factors in slips, trips and falls. Always use appropriate footwear with slip-resistant soles for added grip.

10. Do not get distracted!

Mobile phones make it easy to use the time moving between spaces to catch up on emails or make phone calls, but distraction is a significant contributor to slips, trips and falls. Remember that when you are tired, you are more easily distracted and prone to accidents.

These simple actions do not take much time or effort but they make a big difference when it comes to keeping you and your colleagues safe.

Why Do We Resist Rest?

Rest is sleep’s poor cousin. Something to fit in when we can but rarely a priority. Yet taking time out for ourselves every day brings many benefits of its own.

Busyness, or having lots of demands on your time, has become something of badge of honour.

Asked how we are, we are as likely to answer ‘busy’ as we are ‘good’ or ‘fine’ – almost like we are assuring ourselves we are in demand and important, says psychologist and BBC radio presenter Claudia Hammond, author of The Art of Rest: how to find respite in the modern age.

And research led by Columbia marketing professor Silvia Bellezza shows that people perceive others who are busy – and who use products indicating they are busy (like a Bluetooth headset for multitasking) – to be important and impressive.

This cult of busyness has a downside, says Hammond, and it is that we struggle to fit in rest.

What exactly is rest?

Rest is anything that helps you to relax, switch off from worrying, take a break, and take a pause, says Hammond on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) radio show Tapestry. Rest can be different for everyone. It can be active (going for a walk or run) or passive (reading or listening to music).

Rest is not the same as sleep. Sleep is an essential function. Without it, every system of your body is affected, from your cognitive function to your immunity. When you are sleep deprived, your body will eventually force you to sleep.

Resting, on the other hand, is not valued nearly as much as sleep. It is often something we fit in at the end of the day if we can, when everything else is done.

Yet ‘waking restfulness’ is good for us – physically, by reducing blood pressure and heart rate, and mentally and cognitively, through boosting mood, memory and our ability to concentrate. Rest allows you to take a break when you are awake to let your mind shut off.


What is stopping us resting?

Rest does not always come easily. You may put up barriers that prevent you from taking time out, says PsychCentral. Some common ones include:

  • Believing rest is the same as being lazy, and feeling guilty about it.
  • Being a perfectionist and setting yourself impossibly hard goals.
  • “Even though we may not recognise it as perfectionism, at times we are desperately trying so hard to be perfect by doing, accomplishing, and achieving everything we set our minds to,” says psychologist Dr Kelly Vincent. This may affect your ability to rest, she says, because of a fear that your life will spin out of control if you engage in a period of mental rest.
  • Being uncomfortable or afraid to rest. You may find you get bored when resting, or that having a rest means you have to stop doing whatever it is you are doing and fear this will set you back.
  • Having invasive thoughts. Ruminating and worrying can stop you fully resting. You may worry about getting all your work done, what you are going to have for dinner, even what others think about you resting!

The Rest Test

Claudia Hammond led a team in a 2019 study called The Rest Test, the largest global survey on rest ever conducted. The online study of 18,000 people from 135 countries found that regardless of income, two-thirds of people said they wanted more rest.

Hammond says that while often we are very busy and have too much to do, there is pressure to be achieving all the time. We live in an era with information at the touch of a button, and our social media feeds are full of people doing amazing things.

For many people in The Rest Test survey, the prospect of switching off and resting was associated with anxiety and guilt.

“We set ourselves high standards,” says Hammond. “We want to be fit, look a certain way, or cook amazing meals for our guests.”

Even during the pandemic there was almost a pressure to do lockdown well, she says. “Pressure to learn new things, make amazing sourdough bread – you needed some sort of achievement. Whereas the second time we had lockdown it was enough to get through.

“And I think the other thing is that the boundaries between work or not working have become really blurred, because technology has allowed them to do that,” says Hammond. “With so many people working from home during the pandemic, that is only increased.”

 

How much rest?

If you are thinking to yourself “well, I cannot fit in any time to rest because I am too busy,” Hammond says that we all have wasted moments in our day that we could reframe as resting.

This could be time commuting on a train or bus, time spent in a queue, or minutes spent waiting for someone or something.

Hammond says she new reframes wasted time as rest by thinking “yeah, I am going to rest now for 10 minutes, I have got a gift now of a break.”

When you are working and caring – whether for children or older relatives – carving out rest time is difficult, Hammond admits. She recommends prescribing yourself at least 15 minutes a day of something you find restful. This could be having a coffee in your garden or balcony, going for a walk, reading, or watching a favourite TV show.

 

Top 10 most restful activities

According to The Rest Test, these are the top 10 activities people find the most restful:

  1. Reading
  2. Being in a natural environment
  3. Being alone
  4. Listening to music
  5. Doing nothing in particular
  6. Walking
  7. Taking a shower or bath
  8. Daydreaming
  9. Watching TV
  10. Meditation or practising mindfulness

Are You a Morning Mover or Afternoon Shaker?

There is boundless research on the best type, duration, intensity and frequency of exercise, but until now, not so much on the timing of it. What is clear though is that whatever time of day we get moving, exercise is good for us. Here is a quick refresher on just some of the benefits.

1. Heart health

Exercise improves overall cardiovascular health and reduces your risk of heart disease. It strengthens your heart muscle, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation.

2. Chronic illness management

Regular physical activity is key to managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and osteoporosis.

3. Mood booster

Exercise releases endorphins – your body’s natural stress relievers. Studies have shown a clear benefit of regular exercise in mild anxiety and depression.

4. Strength and endurance

Consistent exercise will strengthen your muscles and bones as well as improve your endurance – all vital for healthy ageing.


Morning movers

One clear advantage of exercising in the morning is that you are less likely to skip a workout. At the start of the day, the usual post-work excuses just do not hold. Help to limit other possible reasons for skipping a morning workout by getting an early night, laying out your exercise clothes the night before and making sure you choose an exercise you enjoy for your early morning workouts.

Many people worry they are not natural early risers, but regular morning exercise can help adjust your circadian rhythm, helping you with that early wake-up.

Studies suggest that morning exercisers may experience a post-exercise reduction in blood pressure that may continue throughout the day.

And as a bonus, starting the day on a positive note with a workout can boost your mood and productivity.

 

Afternoon activators

Research suggests that physical performance indicators, such as strength and endurance, might peak in the afternoon. If you are training with personal bests in mind, shifting to afternoon workouts might be for you.

Afternoon exercise can serve as an effective stress relief valve, especially after a hard day. If you are looking to switch out some of your less healthy coping mechanisms, an end-of-day workout could be a game-changer.

 

Consistency is the winner

When it comes to exercise, the real winner is consistency. The important thing is to find the time that suits your schedule and lifestyle and stick to it. The benefits of exercise are not limited to a specific time of day, so get out there, get moving and step into a healthier you!

 

Unlocking the consistency code

Whether it be morning ‘sum salutations’ or an evening jog, there are ways to build a consistent exercise routine. Here are some tips:

1. Set realistic goals.
Becoming an Olympic swimmer might be a fun idea, but it is not a reasonable expectation for most. Stay realistic to avoid discouragement.

2. Start slow and build up.
Want to start running? Great! Start with a short walk-run, not a long-distance dash.

3. Consider your personal style.
Are you a lone wolf or do you prefer to be part of a pack?

4. Remember rest and recovery
You are not a machine. Rest and recovery are essential to avoid your gains being undone by sickness or injury.

5. Ditch perfectionism. We all have that friend who eagerly starts something, misses a day and then gives it up altogether. You are human – you will miss days and have days where you do not hit personal bests. That is OK. Keep going!

1 Thing You Can Do Today

Daydream


Daydreaming, often dismissed as a distraction, is a mental activity with surprising health benefits. Beyond providing a momentary escape from the demands of daily life, daydreaming has been linked to improved cognitive function and enhanced creativity.

Research suggests that allowing the mind to wander fosters problem-solving skills and encourages innovative thinking.

 

Reduce your stress and boost your mood

You probably do it instinctively, but it turns out that daydreaming has a positive impact on stress reduction. Engaging in pleasant and imaginative thoughts during moments of relaxation can lower cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress.

Daydreaming has also been associated with enhanced memory consolidation. During these mental wanderings, the brain consolidates and organises information, potentially aiding in learning and memory retention.

 

Improve your problem solving ability

When your mind is allowed to wander freely, it can make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, leading to novel insights and solutions.

During daydreaming, the brain engages in what psychologists call “incubation”, a process where the subconscious mind continues to work on a problem even when the conscious mind is at rest. This incubation period allows the brain to consider alternative perspectives, and generate new ideas and think divergently.

Research has shown that people who take breaks and engage in mind-wandering during tasks requiring creativity often demonstrate improved problem-solving abilities compared to those who remain intensely focused.

Eat Smarter

Fresh Ginger


Fresh ginger is not just for stir fries, it is a nutrient-packed powerhouse that can do wonders for your wellbeing. Here are eight reasons to eat more fresh ginger.

1. Digestion

Ginger contains gingerol, a bioactive compound that kickstart the digestive process, reducing bloating, indigestion, and nausea. That is why so many motion-sickness supplements include ginger.

2. Anti-inflammatory

Gingerol is also a powerful anti-inflammatory compound. Anti-inflammatories can potentially lower the risk of chronic diseases like arthritis and heart conditions.

3. Immunity

Ginger is a nutrient-packed immunity booster. Rich in antioxidants, it strengthens your body’s defenses, helping you fend off common colds and flu.

4. Pain relief

Ginger is often used as a natural pain reliever, and clinical trials have shown it is effective in reducing pain, although more research is required. Its analgesic properties make it effective in soothing various types of pain, from menstrual cramps to muscle soreness.

5. Mood booster

Research suggests ginger can positively impact mood by influencing serotonin levels in the brain. Chemicals found in ginger can interact with the serotonin receptor responsible for antidepressant effects.

6. Weight management

Ginger can help you manage your weight by promoting a feeling of fullness. Additionally, its thermogenic properties can give your metabolism a gentle boost.

7. Cognitive clarity

Ginger’s antioxidants are thought to protect your brain against the oxidative stress behind neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.

8. Nutrient-rich

Ginger contains essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, B6, and potassium, making it a wholesome addition to your diet.