Five Stepping

Friday, 18 September 2015


You are what you eat as the old adage runs – and all the evidence suggests that the huge increase in the average weight of the UK's population is due to precisely that… we are, fuelled by convenience, increasingly champing our way through the heavily promoted products of the ‘food industry’ which are all too often laced with the addictive sweetening agents and fats that are not only guaranteed to make you put on weight, but to make sure that you  to keep coming back for more.

More than half of us are unhealthily overweight – still slightly behind the Americans, but only just – and it’s not just adults: the rise in morbid obesity in children is particularly scary as fat children are actually developing more fat cells rather than doing what adults do, which is simply overfilling the ones they already have. This makes it incredibly difficult for them to lose weight without existing in a state of semi-starvation … for life.

Part of #5stepping is to make sure you don’t eat the wrong food … and then to kick on and make sure your diet is laced with the ‘superfoods’ that can add to your health: it doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat a Big Mac again but, in the same way that cutting out some of the caffeine and alcohol helps reduce toxins and empty calories, putting in place good food habits can benefit you and all those around you – and those habits begin on the high street or more probably the out of town hypermarket because, the way we shop has changed beyond all recognition.  In a single generation, supermarkets have replaced individual high street shops; you can now buy what used to be seasonal fruit and vegetables twelve months a year; and exotic, occasional treats have become weekly staples.

The way we live has also changed: Dad still does out to work but Mum no longer stays at home to cook and clean, she works too … and then comes home to cook and clean!  Sex equality has come a long way since the 1970s but rather than both parents cooking, all too often neither parent cooks and this is having an impact on the nutritional wellbeing of our children who will be the first generation since the industrial revolution who have an average life expectancy that is less than their parents.

Fifty years ago, convenience food was baked beans on toast (pretty healthy in a number of ways) and takeaways were Fish and Chips on Fridays. Microwave ovens hadn’t been invented and, on most days, the family sat down together at the table to eat a meal that had been cooked from scratch using local, seasonal ingredients.  There were almost no artificial sweeteners and no pre-packaged meals. 

It is ironic that, in an era when cookery programmes dominate the airwaves and cookery books the best-seller lists, cooking at home all too often involves popping a ready meal in the microwave and eating it in front of Masterchef.

So, the next step that #5steppers need to take is to shop for ingredients rather than for meals.  Buy a basic cookbook and buy locally sourced meat and seasonal vegetables (both are ethically, environmentally and probably medically better for you).  List out your meals for the week, source your ingredients and buy them; if you’re pressed for time on a Wednesday, cook a double batch on Saturday and freeze the surplus … then you can use the microwave to defrost a meal whose provenance and contents are known to you in detail.  

No emulsifiers, no e-numbers, no preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, no colouring, just good food, which is a healthy as you want to make it.  Food just like Gran used to buy and cook … and Gran knew a thing or two about budgeting: ingredients cost a lot less than meals that have been prepared for you – so proper, old-fashioned shopping is a key ingredient for health and wealth!

Early to Bed…

So far, #5stepping shouldn’t have proved to onerous – drink more water, walk a little more; drink less caffeine and alcohol, sit a little less … but then that’s the whole point of #5stepping: it isn’t meant to be hard, it’s all about those little incremental changes that stack up to make a big difference.

The third step you can take to make your life healthier is even easier … it involves doing absolutely nothing, and doing it for at least seven-and-a-half hours a day!

That’s the minimum amount of sleep the average person needs to stay healthy yet more than half of us aren’t getting more than around six hours per night – and not enough zeds doesn’t just make you feel a bit slower, it could kill you!

The amount of sleep we need changes through life: and it’s not just adults that are getting less than they need.  Children need around 11-12 hours sleep at pre-school age and teenagers 9-10 hours per night but the numbers getting enough rest is falling year on year.

The most obvious immediate effects of a late night are feeling slower and lacking concentration, which isn’t a good think if your first act of the day after downing a shot of restorative caffeine is to jump behind the wheel of a car.  A quarter of all road traffic accidents are attributed to lack of adequate sleep, not surprising when you consider that people who have been awake for 19 hours score worse on functional tests that those over the legal limit for alcohol!

There are other ways lack of sleep can cut short your life: people who get less than six-and-a half hours sleep a night are 50% more likely to be overweight than those getting the full eight hours. There is also a much higher chance of developing type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease; delayed healing from illness or injury and clinical depression.

Fortunately, if you’re a #5stepper, you’ll already have taken two giant strides towards improving both the quality and quantity of your sleep.  Alcohol reduces the quality of sleep and caffeine the quantity – water doesn’t (though two pints of H20 immediately before retiring is likely to cause a 3am dash to the loo). Physical exercise, such as walking, also helps counter insomnia. And if you’ve noticed that more exercise and fewer empty calories is starting to push your weight in the right direction, then bear in mind that a healthy body-mass index massively reduces the risk of sleep apnoea, a potentially lethal condition that can leave sufferers exhausted even after a full night’s sleep.

So, if you want to improve your vitality, boost your concentration, improve your health and even pep-up your sex drive, here are my top tips.

• Routine is everything.
It doesn’t matter if you’re nine months or ninety years, go to bed and get up at the same time every day… including weekends!  You’ll feel a lot better and get much more done.

• If you can’t get the full eight hours at night, have a siesta
An hour’s sleep in the afternoon every day means you need less at night: it works a treat in Southern Europe and the evidence shows it’s actually better for you!

• Ban electronic devices from the bedroom.
Televisions, smart pones, tablets and PCs should stay downstairs and be switched off a least 45 minutes before you want to go to sleep. Remember books? 30 minutes reading (of something not too harrowing).

• Be cool!
A bedroom needs to be ventilated, to avoid build-up of carbon dioxide and should be around 17-19ºC. 

• Do not disturb.
You need dark (blackout curtains) and quiet (secondary glazing or ear plugs) to sleep well.

Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.


The second step to a healthier, wealthier you is almost as simple as the first: keep drinking the water… and start taking some steps – and more than just five of them!

Once upon a time when, if you wanted to get somewhere, walking was most likely the only option.  As hunter-gatherers, most days would have probably involved walking ten to twelve miles, presumably with days off if a mammoth had been bagged recently.  Then someone invented the wheel, domesticated oxen to pull them, bred horses to pull them faster and discovered how crude oil could be refined to make them go with a bang.  These days, few people even manage ten miles per week.

One of the commonest questions from our patients recovering from low back pain is ‘are there any exercises I should do’.  Because low back pain is a symptom with many possible causes, there is, of course, no such thing as a ‘low back pain exercise’; however, for the commonest forms of low back pain, sitting is often aggravating and moderate walking on firm surfaces can be very beneficial.

This is why our clinics have all been promoting @getGBstanding – check out their website (, there’s a great calculator there, which shows you how many hours a day you’re sitting and a huge section on the health risks of sitting more than four hours per day… and I bet you do!!

For people who don’t have back pain, walking five miles a day, can be a very good way of ensuring you stay that way – it is also helpful for your weight, heart, lungs, metabolism, digestion, joints and bones. 

So, given the ease with which it can be done and the multiple benefits, why does the average adult walk only a tenth of that … just half a mile per day?

The answer is largely lifestyle driven, with ‘driven’ being the operative word: we drive to work, we drive to the shops, we sit at computers all day, and then we drive back home in the evening (unless we’re going out, in which case we drive there). 

But, as with the first step, small lifestyle changes can make a huge difference – try some of these simple tricks to get up to your five miles a day:

  • ·     Take a leisurely walk with your spouse, child, or friend
  • ·      Window shop
  • ·      Walk the dog – or borrow someone else’s dog to walk
  • ·      Park at the far end of the car park
  • ·      If it’s less that a mile, leave the car and walk
  • ·      Use the stairs instead of the lift
  • ·      Put the TV remote control in the drawer
  • ·      Join a walking group
  • ·      Get into the garden
  • ·      Get up from your desk and walk 100 metres once an hour
  • ·      Play outdoors with the kids
  • ·      Take your phone calls standing up (and pace importantly).

Not only will you feel better, but you could save over £1000 per year in transport costs! 

If you have any health concerns seek advice from a healthcare professional prior to starting or changing your exercise routine.

#5stepping to Wealth, not just Health

Another very good reason to drink water is that it’s the world’s best diet drink … it has ZERO calories!!

By comparison, the typical ‘2 unit’ alcoholic drink contains between 200 and 300 calories, and a bottle of cola or an energy drink over 300 – and what’s worse, they’re ‘empty’ calories, devoid of any nutritional value.

So, if you’re #5stepping (and, if you’re not, you should be), you’ll see why replacing one alcoholic and one caffeinated drink per day is going to help you lose weight – to put it into perspective, 500 calories a day is ONE-THIRD of the average daily requirement for most adults, it’s the equivalent of two Mars Bars, it’s 3,500 calories a week, it the equivalent of a whole meal, it’s 182,000 calories a year!

Who needs to diet if you’re #5stepping?  

It’s not just your general health and your waistline that’ll benefit – you could save yourself some serious money too.  A glass of water needn’t cost you a penny extra if it comes out of a tap; by comparison, a cola is around £1; a coffee shop cappuccino, £2.50; a typical glass of something cheering about the same (assuming you’re drinking at home).  Start #5stepping and you’re not going to lose money, start #5stepping and you could easily save yourself between £1.50 and £5 every day of the year.

Could you do with an extra £550 a year, because that’s the equivalent of one home brewed cuppa and a glass of plonk a day?  If you imbibe your poisons whilst you're out and about, then the two drinks you’ll be giving up amount to well over £2,000 every year of your hard-earned, heavily taxed income – you could either work a lot less or holiday a lot more for that sort of money, and enjoy better health at the same time.

…And, if you can’t, share it with someone who can and get ready to see if you can start #5stepping with the second step, out next week.

So the thirteenth day of Christmas has arrived and within the seasonal conundrum of how to lose the half a stone gained over the previous fortnight and pay off the credit card purchases that didn’t seem a problem until the statement arrived.

It’s time to start #5stepping, and you can follow the campaign with daily tips and updates @5stepper and on Facebook

So, in the spirit of seasonal panto, let’s start with a simple question: Do you take drugs?

Oh no I don’t…

Oh yes you do…

Although most of us wouldn't dream of consciously taking psychoactive drugs or drinking poison, how many of us down caffeine every day in our teas, coffees, colas and energy drinks – or even in products such as waffles, sunflower seeds, trail mix, jelly beans and chewing gum? The UK's Food and Drug Administration's recommended maximum intake is the equivalent of four to five (regular) cups of tea or coffee per day: without any extras from other caffeine containing products.

Then, when we’ve finished spending the day downing caffeine (a stimulant), we're countering it with a poisonous depressant – alcohol! Almost everyone thinks they drink less than they actually do; often by underestimating the size of home measures or the strength of the drink, and about one-third of the adult population are estimated to be seriously damaging their long-term mental or physical health by the amount of alcohol they consume.

Cutting down on coffee and booze are usually top of the New Year's Resolutions list but, rather than giving up, why not do something positive about it instead?

The first step is about as simple a lifestyle change as it’s possible to make: drink water instead. We are composed of 70% water, we can't live without it: we CAN live without stimulants or depressants … so, just replace two drinks of tea, coffee, cola or your favourite tipple with a two glasses of water every day – one in the morning and one in the evening.

It can be still water, fizzy water, water on the rocks, bottled water, flavoured water or even plain tap water. You can heat it up, cool it down, squeeze in a few drops of fresh orange, lemon or lime or take it straight. It will keep you hydrated, help reduce the number of 'wasted' calories you consume, save you money, cut cholesterol, increase brain power, improve bowel function and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Drink more water: it doesn't take any extra time, money or effort. It isn't a resolution, it's a lifestyle change that will have benefits straight away and will continue to benefit you for the rest of your life.So, why #5stepping?

I got the idea earlier this year, when listening to the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2.  He was talking about ‘Blue Monday’, apparently the most depressing day of the year … it’s late January, Christmas is over, Easter is miles away and the New Year’s Resolutions have gone to pot – “As they always do,” I added mentally, which is why I gave up making them decades ago (in fact, ‘I will never make another New Year’s Resolution’ is the only New Year’s Resolution that I have ever managed to keep).“

Of course they always fail: they involve giving up the things we like the most – so how would it be if, instead of giving up stuff, we did something positive, something small but effective … or several small but effective things that would make little difference to out every day activities but, together, could turn our lives around.

So, How #5stepping?

Simple, easy, effective, positive, proactive: they were the rules.  So what was a chiropractor doing dishing out lifestyle advice?  That was he question the Western Gazette asked when I suggested that their readers might benefit from a monthly health column featuring ‘Five Steps to Better Health’.  Well, chiropractors are surprisingly well-educated – most chiropractors train for five years (physiotherapists train for three) to Masters Level (doctors train to ordinary Bachelor level).  Their University training includes physiology, nutrition, orthopaedics, epidemiology, microbiology, general medicine, neurology, psychology and their approach to health is both holistic and aimed at optimisation rather than being constrained by NHS budgets and pigeonholing.

Quite a few patients took up the challenge – and all of them succeeded in losing weight, felt better and saved money … and the weight has stayed off, unlike the ‘boom and bust’ diets that keep the dieting industry in business (same time next year?).

The articles were combined in the County Magazine over the summer, and several more people joined up … by then, we were taking tentative steps into social media and I was discovering how I could find the time to blog, tweet, post, and write articles, research and books whilst treating 130 patients a weeks in four separate clinics (without abandoning my family).

So, it works!

I’ve been practicing what I preach and have lost two stones – back to my fighting weight when I was playing representative rugby and running the 100m in ten-point-something and reckon I’ve saved the best part of a grand this year, which mirrors the slogan Paul Wilkinson at the Western Gazette coined: ‘Lose Two Stone; Gain A Thousand Pounds’.

So, When #5stepping?

If you want to Change Your Life, without having to change your life, I reckon I’ve come up with five simple steps that anyone can manage and, when taken together, will make you feel a lot better about yourself … and make your self feel a lot better – and you don’t have to wait till New Year to resolve to take part: the first Sunday of Advent is November 30th and THAT is when you can start #5stepping your way into a happier and healthier 2015 (Step 1 is guaranteed to make Christmas less of a headache).

So follow us on twitter @5stepper to get #5stepping; read my blog via or find us on Facebook and you’ll increase the quality of your life … and the quantity!

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