The Cat made me do it…… and other genuine excuses

Back in 1989 I went to a lecture on something called the Vagus nerve. It excited me (no pun intended for the scientists among you) and without a doubt held a key to health. From my understanding back at that time the Vagus was the master nerve. It left the brain and descended down the neck, all the way down the body branching off on route to every organ you could possibly think of. Its big thing was calming the body down, relaxing it and if you ever feel tired after a big meal and want to sleep, the Vagus nerve is partly behind it. In other words, it was the nerve that conveyed information from the automatic system of the body (autonomic nervous system), that we had little conscious control of. Now I could talk all day about autonomics and it is at the heart of healing and Osteopathy but for today I would like to focus on the other flow of the Vagus. The flow not from the brain down to the organs but from the organs to the brain. More specifically, from the stomach to the brain.

A slight detour and you will see why in a minute.

Research has been pouring out in the last few years about something called the microbiome, and if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you have not been chatting with me for a few years. I am slightly obsessed with it. We are after all made mostly from bacteria, fungus and ancient virus. The fabulous book 10% human, is a read I often recommend and can really show the balance we have with surrounding life forms. The fact we have only 20-25 thousand genes in our bodies (thank you the human genome project) is slightly worrying as a carrot has more than we do, 33 thousand. I would hope most of you agree that we are slightly more complicated than a carrot. However, as most of us is not human, we get bacteria etc to do the work for us and when you combine the number of genes in bacteria and humans you are now talking tens of millions. In short, don’t think you are all human, most of you isn’t, yet our ability to work with these bacteria or their ability to work with us, is why we are so special. At least that is what my mother tells me I am.

So why is it we tend to ignore the majority shareholders of what we are (bacteria) and what does this majority shareholder do? For a start it digests our food, it regulates our immune system, it literally makes vitamins and stops harmful infections. Trillion of bacteria, etc reside on our skin, in our every organ and even conjugate in huge numbers in hairy sweaty places wafting their smells and odours to attract mates and ward off unwanted attention. Our gut is jam-packed full of them and they very much are in control.

But hold on, before I enter the huge chasms of what does what and where– we are talking Vagus and this is the link I want to focus on. You see, what we eat and how it is digested is what feeds the microbiome. A delicate balance is responsible for breaking down sugars, proteins, fats etc. Certain foods allow the reproduction of some bacteria more than others. Indeed certain foods may kill off some bacteria. Of course, what bacteria is in there to start with is key and that means we have to think mother and birth (more of that later)

The War

The internal and established bacteria now leads to constant war. Just like all life, bacteria fight for an advantage and it is a dirty grubby rumble to say the least. Imagine armies of certain bacteria and armies of another fighting for the position of power, reproduction and land, but in their trillions. What tactics do you think they would take, maybe similar to the tactics we employ ourselves in war. Dirt and backhand perhaps? Maybe you thought fake news and manipulation was uniquely human… Think again. We know that some bacteria in animals force their owner to act in a certain way. For instance, a toxoplasma bacteria change a rats brain from instead of being afraid of its primary predator, a cat, to switch it to actively seek out a cats urine. It makes the rat want to be caught and eaten. That is because this bacteria (Toxoplasma) only can reproduce inside a cat. It actually has a plan. To be fair, it may not have a cunning plan, it just is….(philosophers delight)

So why do we ever think that bacteria and fungus can act on other animals but not effect us in the same of similar way. Lots of bacteria has now be shown to do exactly that. Toxoplasma as an example has been shown to effect men, by making them more reckless and yet makes women more trusting. Could this be yet another way it gets it host to reproduce? Some girls really do like a bad boy despite all that logic.  Some research has now linked that same bacteria to schizophrenia and autism. Could it be possible that bacteria, out of control, or out of balance, changes our nature and behaviour. My answer would be yes and don’t take my word for it, science agrees.

Just as a background , toxoplasma is found in many cats. Humans can get it from a cat scratch or dealing with the litter tray. One experiment showed 22 % of Parisian pregnant women to be infected. Think about that next time you are on a romantic break in Paris!

Another such example is  the behaviour of high neuroticism and low conscientiousness.(hnlc) When tested (see reference below)  re a large scale personality test for the above – hnlc people had high levels of Gammaproteobacteria and Proteobacteria in the gut. Additionally, highly conscientiousness people showed increased abundance of some butyrate-producing bacteria like Lachnospiraceae and others.

This is a minefield as these bacteria are in terms of relative to body size distance millions of miles from the brain and our supposed personality.

This of course is where the Vagus nerve comes into play. It sits proudly by the stomach, soaking up bacteria and its by-product. Avoiding the famed blood-brain barrier, it railroads the chemicals straight to our brain. We think now that this is the mode of transport. Recent studies have certainly shown plaques appearing by its retrograded flow and some research has even linked these plaques to degenerative disease of the brain.

Let us think about how we populate our gut. Mostly the first few seconds of life and certainly the first three years make all the difference in the world. We know that children born in C section have a higher incidence of asthma and eczema and food allergies that natural, vaginal born children. The thought is the covering of bacteria from a mother’s womb during childbirth populates the child and immediately stimulates the immune system. The old saying, a little bit of dirt is good for you is very true.

Now , I could and will talk and explore this topic for hours, and if you are ever having treatment and want to know more, please do ask….please… For instance, don’t get me started on antibiotics in children for ear infections………………………

as a side note, we have lived with bacteria forever, if you consider that the life of the earth is about 4.6 billion years old and it took about 3 billion years to develop simple life, and another billion years to develop animals, think about that friendship / relationship. Humans in our current are a mere 250 thousand years and so we have in our every cell (almost) a powerhouse of converted bacteria called mitochondria. Trillions of bacteria and fungi are on every part of our body inside and out. We truly would not be here without it and so we, our mother, our mother’s mother have hosted these bacteria since the dawn of animals. No animal can live independently of its microbiomes.

Running Essentials.

It truly is a miracle cure.

If I were to get you a drug that could keep the heart stronger, the blood vessels more supple,  lessens chronic inflammation, help memory, lose weight and reduce the harmful effects of stress, would you buy it?

You may answer, and I hope you do, with another question – what would be the side effects? This no doubt, should be answered first.

I am talking about running and walking. The scientific evidence is huge, of course we are designed to walk but did you know that most of us are designed for running as well. From special ligaments, hairless skin (almost) to muscle fibres, we can out run , hence catch and eat nearly every animal on the planet.

The recommended amount of exercise is 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. Around half the population in the UK meet this guideline. Often this phrase (light, moderate or vigorous exercise) is bounded about and yet, most people I ask, have no idea what the difference is and say they walk the dog which counts as their exercise.

For me and I take this from exercise science, a light walk with a dog, stopping for it to sniff around (at least that’s what my dog does), puts little effort on my heart or body. It is just what I would expect normal movement to be during the day. Meaning most dog walkers do not get moderate exercise unless walking quickly and getting out of breath etc.

Let me help by explaining what light, moderate or vigorous exercise is. We can measure in something called METs, this stands for metabolic equivalent and is basically a sum, saying when we are sitting doing nothing we burn a metabolic equivalent (MET) of 1 unit per Kg of body weight. At light exercise, we would burn 3 MET and vigorous exercise 6 METs,  but for now, lets keep to the basics.

  1. Light exercise is a stroll (2 METS)
  2. Moderate is a brisk walk (enough to put you out of breath a bit) 3 METS
  3. Running (a brisk walk or slow run is similar), so here I mean a faster run 7km/ hour or 4.5 mph, so about a 12 minute mile. 6 METS

A study in January 2020 looked at first time marathon runners who, after training and the race, found a 4 year equivalent reduction in age of the cardio vascular system or even more in older runners compared to before running. That sounds pretty good already right?

Is more running or walking better?
Studies show the biggest health benefit from running to be about 60 minutes per week. Compared with walkers (16,000 walkers compared with 33,000 runners), runners had 38% lower risk of high blood pressure and 71% less risk of type II diabetes. However, this can be a bit of a Daily Mail headline and misleading. Once data was compared and when walkers used the same energy (so longer and quicker walks) to equate to the same energy of a run, (slower or shorter) the benefits were about the same.

Another study of 400,000 people showed 15 minutes of light exercise a day, or 5 minutes of running i.e a vigorous exercise, reduced risk of death by 10 percent compared to more sedentary people of similar age and other variables. So if you are short of time, 5 mins a day gives huge benefits.

It is the amount of energy you use that counts, and if you are short of time, running is a miracle.

Losing Weight

I am often asked will I lose weight by running. I have another muse about weight in another article, and it is not all about exercise. However, we do know that runners weigh less than walkers (on average), and certainly less than sedentary people. Another study showed and you won’t be surprised, that reduction in weight was greater in runners than walkers, so the short answer is yes, running will help you lose weight. This may be also because of the increased metabolic rate AFTER exercise. A subject I will get into next time as well and similar to the information I shared in our paper on muscles.

Of course the other miracle here is that despite stereotyped old women and men warning you that running will wear you out (as if we are a non rechargeable battery) and you can bet these people have never exercised. Iowa state uni showed if someone between age 44 and 80 runs 2 hours a week, that is 0.43 of a year running in total. This would provide an extra 2.8 years on average to your life. In other words, 1 hour running adds 7 hours to your life.

Injures and running , more importantly will I hurt myself running ?

One great study at The Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in London studied 82 first time marathon runners. They scanned the knee 6 months pre a marathon and again a few weeks after the event. The result, stronger knees after the event. The knee cap actually showed signs of damage….But wait.. after 6 months this repaired and cartilage was stronger. Running improved your knees health…wiping away the old wives tale of the 1980’s that running causes knee arthritis. (The same was true of the hips, when looking at runners who worked at a total 560km in prep for marathon training ).

To be clear more running or brisk walking reduced the risk of pre arthritis in the hip and knee. It real terms , an average runner has a 3.5% chance of osteoarthritis in their knee or hip, and a sedentary non runner a 10% chance. However, elite runners beware, you may increase your risk and need more bespoke advice, you guys have a 13% chance.

So good news for joggers and brisk walkers. Even better news for walkers is a lower risk of injuries compared to runners.

Roughly, a novice runner will get 18 injuries for every 1000 hours of exercise. Risks include previous injury and running style.

Here is the warning, the benefits of running drop off at 4.5 hours a week, I know this only effects a few of you and you know who you are! However, the risks from any amount of running are always lower than doing no running at all.

Common running injuries I do see, are the classic runner’s knee, plantar fascia issues and a whole host that we discuss in our talk with the expert series (see youtube link).

In short and to cut a long story short (I know… too late), get out there and run.. or at least walk quickly.

Muscles will save your life

Muscles Like Arnie

Sadly as a near 50 year old man who goes to the gym 4 times a week, runs and plays squash, I know one plain truth. Muscle strength peaks in our 30’s and slowly declines after that. In short, I am slowly degenerating.

So what’s the good news ? (also see my article on running and walking for a start). We know that muscle building reduces the risk of cancers and strokes, diabetes Type II and early studies show can even boost your memory, thus reducing cognitive decline.

Muscle training is resistance training, resistance training is muscle training. That means things that cause your muscles to work against a weight, such as your own body weight, or resistance bands, a weight at a gym or picking up a sack of food at home, count as muscle training.

The UK government and the world health organisation’s latest physical chart (2020), puts muscle training as the NUMBER ONE most important thing to do. It is at the center of their chart. Let me be clear, TWICE a week you should be building your muscle and currently 75% of UK adults do not get enough strength exercise a week. This figure dramatically increases with age and deterioration of health.

The bad news is by 30 years old we start to lose 5% muscle per decade and by 70 about 10 % a decade. Over time, the fibres in muscle change from being good with heavy loads for short periods to slower weaker fibres better with longer periods of use but less strength. This also alters hormone levels like testosterone, Growth Hormone and Insulin Like Growth factor.

By lifting weights for an hour a week, we reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 70 %. (independent of aerobic exercise). Studies also show it reduced type II diabetes and as above showed a lower risk of heart attacks and cancer. Lastly, and there may be multiple reasons for this, the group of people that muscle train twice a week, have a reduced risk of premature death by any cause. My own opinion is that this group has better social contact as they exercise and keep better coordination. They probably have a better awareness of nutrition and stronger muscles stop us wobbling, tripping or falling down. This would translate to fewer hospital visits, infections and risks. Scientifically we also know it causes the development of motor-neuron pathways and bulk. The reason one paper stated why people with larger muscles fair better at cancers suggested bigger bulk to start with helps negate the wastage and storage when very ill. Muscle stores sacks of glucose and fats and its always good to get a stockpile in during a crisis.

Hormones play a big part, as does overtraining, sleep and nutrition. Testosterone and Growth Hormone (GH) help protein synthesis and help build muscle, Cortisol (a stress hormone) is also released in moderate exercise and so there is a fine balance, as cortisol can prepare your body for fight or flight and cause a shut down for the muscles (see my article on stress hormones). Regular exercise can decrease cortisol, but overtraining can stimulate it. This is where the mindset comes in. If you can convince yourself to enjoy working out, it really is better for you. By reading this article and many more like it, you will know why exercise is so good and hence will enjoy it more as a form of being kind and loving to yourself. On that subject, one useful tip is to think yourself muscular. A study showed people put into casts who spent ten minutes a day thinking of using the muscles and building them when out a cast were significantly larger in bulk than those who did not.

Using your muscle helps shift a lot of weight. Having a resistance weights workout (which is slightly heavy for you) burns energy even after exercise. Bigger muscles require more fuel, thus uses more energy. Secondary, weight training causes tiny mirco-tears in the muscles and repairing them (which takes about three days) demands more energy as well.

New scientist magazine used the following calculation. Lets say I have two 20 minute sessions of resistance training a week and each sessions burns 200 extra calories compared to not working out. Over the next three days I would burn another 100 calories repairing the muscle. That means over the month (31 days ish), that is an extra 500 calories for doing nothing.

Of course muscle training is great for your bone too. It strengthens bone reducing risk of fracture and osteoporosis. Better than aerobic exercise.

Lastly, higher grip strength people, have higher test scores on memory, reaction time and spatial awareness. One study showed older women who lifted weights once a week had significant improvements of cognitive function of attention, compared with women who did balance and toning classes.

Why is it easier for some people to do weights or exercise and not others.

There are so many reasons here, I could not possibly have the breath or time to go into them all. What I can say is that when you use muscles , you release yet another hormone from the brain called endorphins, and unlike synthetic ones, we cant habituate to them. Meaning these hormones make you feel “high” and over time we sensitise to them, meaning we can get the feeling quicker. The more you do , the more you want to do. Hence the first few weeks are the hardest.


Ostrogen is a primary sex hormone for women, it does everything from regulation of female reproduction to protection of some organs. However, too much can be bad and linked with breast cancer etc. Exercise can reduce ostrogen (Useful if over 35 as this group are often Ostrogen dominant) and thus reduce the risk of breast cancer. Be warned here, over-exercise may stop menstruation and the ability to conceive. Second warning – Do not use exercise as a form of birth control (yes I have heard it all).

What muscles to Use?

Recommendation would be each major group, legs, chest, arms, shoulder, pelvic at least twice a week. The evidence is the first work out gives you the most benefit, second a bit more and the third only slightly more, The results plateau after that. Also don’t worry about detail. The benefits of lifting a heavy weight 5 times or a lighter weight 20 times are basically the same. Just do some exercise that makes you feel tired and gets the heart pumping, squats, lunges, press ups, resistance training etc.

Vit D3 was given to elite ballet dancers and those taking it showed a 19% increase strength of leg muscles and less injuries compared to the control group / placebo takers. Protein is super important as well, but please just ask one of us about this.

Vibration machines increased strength up to two months after work outs compared with people who just did work outs.

Last and not least, you can stimulate a muscle in many ways, from thought to work out. As a famous brand put it…………….Just do it.

Good News about Covid -19

There is hope on the horizon despite all the coronavirus chaos.

At the Osteopathic House, we love good news, so lets share some

The pandemic is sweeping the globe with lockdowns all over Europe and rising death tolls across the UK and neighbouring countries.

There are tales of heroic medics and of incredible recoveries with people offering help and of course… team spirit.

Lets also give a chart to show how this pandemic compares with others we know about. (see below)

From trial vaccines to potential treatments and from great neighbours to wonderful community spirit, there seems to be hope for us all.

Amid all the tales of woe, here’s our take on the good news stories to come out of the pandemic:

– China has reported just one new domestic coronavirus infection for a second day in a row. It was in Wuhan where the virus emerged at the end of last year. Cases in the surrounding Hubei province have been in single digits for at least a week. Wuhan was quarantined on January 23 with the whole of Hubei locked down a few days later. The country has closed its final specific coronavirus hospital – because it is no longer needed. Medics were seen joyfully ripping off their protective gear in scenes of celebration.

– The world’s youngest and the world’s oldest victims of the virus are both doing well. A newborn baby infected shortly after birth at North Middlesex Hospital in London is said to be out of danger and recovering well. Meanwhile, a 103-year-old Chinese grandmother has made a full recovery from COVID-19. Medics said she was cured in less than a week because she had no underlying health  problems.

– Across the UK and abroad, communities are coming together to help their neighbours. Village shops are delivering to elderly and vulnerable residents and groups are being set up to help those isolating with shopping and medicine drops.

– Arts lovers are donating in their droves to causes close to their hearts. Southampton’s iconic music venue The Joiners was close to its £5,000 crowd funding target to help it survive coronavirus cancellations after just 24 hours and theatres locally and in the West End are reporting patrons donating the cost of their cancelled tickets back to the venue.

– Researchers have discovered an antibody that can fight off the infection. The discovery at Rotterdam and Utrecht University could lead to new medication and a way to test yourself in the comfort of your own home.

– The heavily polluted city of Venice and others across the world are getting a well earned rest. Following a complete lockdown in Italy, Venetians are sharing incredible stories, pictures and videos which show the city’s canals crystal clear with fish swimming in them. Pollution is down due to a lack of boat traffic.

– A team of scientists in the Canadian state of Quebec are making progress towards creating a vaccine. – Teachers, children’s entertainers, exercise instructors and group leaders are taking their efforts online. Dozens are setting up special streaming services to keep the nation fit and healthy, entertained and educated.- Plasma from newly recovered patients could be used to treat others. A Japanese pharmaceutical firm is developing a new drug derived from the blood plasma of people

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Vista-Chart.jpg

Self Isolation

The advice is clear, if you are over 70, pregnant or vulnerable please isolate. We can and should question COVID-19 but we should follow guidelines. But what does that mean.

For some that means not being able to hug their children or grandchildren, perhaps give up a family event or a friends lunch etc. Even going to the shops and chatting to staff is now taken away from them.  This can create a feeling of loneliness. We all can feel lonely from time to time. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so everyone’s experience of loneliness will be different.

But loneliness is not always the same as being alone.

You may choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others may find this a lonely experience.

Here are some tips for recognizing loneliness for what it is and dealing with it in the healthiest ways.

1. Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact.  Thats right, we may not be as social as we were, and we may resent it or feel scared, but that is not a fact, it is a feeling and feelings we can change. Phils Fave tips: , pick up the phone, call us or even pen a letter for fun, you could e mail us at the Osteopathic House. With some of teh practioners no able to work, it may even be helping them to have contact as well. So help out and get writingg/ calling and smiling.

2. It is short term. Yes , thats right.. Covid-19 Virus quarantine is not here to stay. By global pandemics, it is extremly small (think 1918 when 40 million died or AIDs in 1985 when 20 million died, Swine flu or Jerusleum flu, in fact even good old fashion flu kills 500,000 a year). Things are bad , but they could be worse.

3. Keep searching for good news and most importantly share it. If you search google etc for what is teh good news today you will be surprosed how great teh world is. If you really want to feel good, read Factfullness and suddenly you will know we are extremly well looked after globaly. (it is a surprise even to me)

4. Take Action…… Sorry you have to do something right now. First go to the lymph exercises on this web site to get the body going. Next focus the mind, think of something you love or a great day (may your wedding day, a baby born, a birthday when you were ten) it really doesn’t matter, but own that day. Let it fill you with smiles and at that stage say out loud Yes…. Yes… and thank you. Try it and as loud as you can…. It will release hormones that make you feel good.

5. See point 1… we can all feel sad at these times, check out our Facebook page for info and good news. You can relay on the osteopathic House to make sense of a crazy world. We have your back….. so to speak.

Phil’s Fave Immune Busting Moves



These “fave” moves will help you get the circulation going and should be preformed about 3 times a day. Have fun, breath deep and no doubt you deserve a cup of tea afterwards.

  1. ACTIVE RIB BREATHING: Assists lymphatic drainage throughout the body.
    • Stand up and in a relaxed but upright position,
    • Stand in alignment (feet pelvis width, outside edges parallel, hips over your heels with butt untucked and ribs relaxed down). Or sit with weight on your sit bones. Allow the front of your ribcage to relax down.
    • Breathe in deeply, expanding the sides and back of your ribcage and at the same time raise your arms above your head. . Pause, then exhale fully dropping your arms to your sides
    • Repeat for 5-10 breaths, several times throughout the day. CAUTION! If you start to feel dizzy, dial it back and focus on exhaling completely.
  2. HEAD RAMPING: Targets cervical lymph nodes and the thoracic duct, your largest lymphatic drainage portal.
    • As in the breathing exercise, start in aligned standing or sitting with your ribs relaxed down. Place your hand on your sternum (breastbone); it should be vertical.
    • Tuck your chin back and up, elongating your neck and keeping your eyes level on the horizon. If you’re against a wall, you’re aiming for touching it with the back of your head.
    • Your ear should stack up over your shoulder joint and the skin on the back of your neck should be wrinkle free.
    • You should see (or feel) multiple chins! (I do)
    • Repeat this 15 times and follow by rotating your head right and left in turn 10 times each side.
  3. Breathing Blows: Targets abdominal lymph nodes and organs. (Remember, the gut plays a role in immune defense too.)
    • Stand tall and in great posture.
    • Fold yours arms across your chest and breath in making your belly expand out.
    • Sharply breath out and suck that belly in. Repeat 10 times and make sure your breath sounds are full and quick. (your neighbour should be able to hear them 😊)
  4. WALKING: Gets your whole body in on the action.
    • Swinging your arms (focus on pulling them back then letting go) stimulates your axillary (armpit) nodes, while your legs activate those in the inguinal (groin) region.Make sure you have a soldiers rhythm. i.e left leg and right arm swing in unison and than the opposite. If you really cant get outside, do it on the spot. The quicker the better and ideally get the heart beating faster.

• Need more motivation?
Call me : Four simple moves for a whole body approach to immune boosting. Of course, there are many more ways to help yourself. But moving more and in better alignment is a great place to start.

The Disc Expert