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Smooth or pimpled? What’s the right paddle choice for your table tennis game?

26th March 2015

Smooth or pimpled? What’s the right paddle choice for your table tennis game?As you’ll know, from reading our blog last month, Andrew Baggaley won the 2015 World Championship of Ping Pong (WCPP). The tournament differentiated itself from table tennis by the roughness of the paddles it employed. Like the sandpaper paddles of old, these paddles had less speed and spin, enabling longer rallies. Consequently, players who were accustomed to rubber had to modify their approaches to the game to account for the different impact of shots. While many are unable to adapt, the British table tennis star succeeded after only a month of practice. Surprisingly, Baggaley even reported that using the ping pong paddle had a positive effect, saying: “In fact whenever I play ping pong, my backhand improves in table tennis.”

So, changing your paddle can help you improve your game in leaps and bounds, or even discover a style of play that better caters to your skills. With spring just around the corner, and Caloo’s outdoor table tennis tables beckoning players outside for a summer of intense matches with friends, is your favourite paddle up to the challenge?

One fascinating aspect of table tennis is that it allows for a high variety of play styles, depending on whether you’re more comfortable attacking or defending, with many different blades and paddle surfaces catering to every need.

If you prefer to play an attacking game then you’ll want a paddle with power, and this means a pips-out or inverted pips paddle. An inverted pips surface is smooth with a high level of grip to generate spin with. It’s also the most common type of surface used by competitive players. Meanwhile, pips-out has less spin, because of its rougher surface, but gives you the chance to power your way through a rally with high speed.

Conversely, playing defensively means having ultimate control of the ball whilst nullifying your opponent’s speed and spin, or even countering it with an unexpected return. Anti-spin rubber and longer, thinner pimples have an ability to cushion the impact of a strong opponent’s shots and counter a ball’s spin. This style of paddle will produce slower shots with less spin, but the increased control means you can play a smarter game against a stronger player.

When you head out to your local ping pong or table tennis table this spring, be sure you have the right paddle for the job. Whether it’s for smashing your way to victory or toying with an aggressive opponent – it will not only make you more effective, it will help you reach new heights as a player.

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Should parents be fined for allowing their children to be obese?

16th March 2015

Should parents be fined for allowing their children to be obese?A new bill being debated in the Puerto Rican legislature is taking, what is to date, the most drastic step towards eradicating childhood obesity we have ever seen. If passed, parents of obese children could be fined up to $800 (about £530) for failing to help them lose weight.

Parents of obese children would work with a counsellor to implement a diet and exercise plan that would be monitored every month. Fines would occur if no improvement is made after 6–12 months. According to Senator Gilberto Rodriguez, the bill aims to help parents make healthier choices and improve children’s wellbeing. However, by targeting people where it hurts most – in their wallets – it risks unfairly punishing the poorest segments of society, who could find themselves crippled by such a hefty fine.

Nevertheless, the bill correctly identifies the biggest influence on a child’s wellbeing – their parents. As research has shown, children tend to look to their parents regarding how they view their health. As well as attesting to this relationship, a 2012 Puerto Rican study in the IJERPH (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health) found that half of the parents studied considered their overweight or obese child to be of normal weight. Consequently, not only did half of the overweight or obese children consider themselves to have a normal weight but 10.3% even thought they were underweight.

fitness for childrenAs extreme and potentially draconian as this bill may be, the fact that it is even being debated shows just how worrying childhood obesity has become worldwide. With over 28% of Puerto Rican children being obese, this may be showing us a sign of things to come if Brits are unable to reign in our own obesity problem. If we hope to truly combat this unnecessary blight on our next generation, we have to educate parents to be more vigilant and work to prevent obesity being seen as the new normal.

Should British MPs also take the extreme measure of fining parents who refuse to acknowledge that a problem exists? While negative reinforcement can be successful at changing bad habits, we’d prefer think that a positive approach – making playground equipment more fun and rewarding and providing free fitness equipment in public parks – is a better way forward. In this way, losing weight and getting fit is just a positive result of an afternoon in the great outdoors – for parents and kids. But, for their part, parents need to know when it’s time to encourage their child to be more active.

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Should your child’s health be a political issue?

10th March 2015

Should your child’s health be a political issue?We at Caloo know from our work with schools and local authorities, in promoting healthy pursuits, that securing the right future for our children needs to be tackled on many fronts. It means installing the very best in engaging, fun and challenging playground or fitness equipment, it means advising on safety and layouts for installation, but it also means changing public perceptions and preferences to promote fitness at all ages. Dr Hilary Cass, president of The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) believes that this should also be a political matter.

Dr Cass was recently quoted in the news as saying children’s health was falling “to the wayside” as the political machine focused more on other priorities, such as elderly care. The college, which is responsible for training and examining British paediatricians, hopes that the coming general election will see a higher prioritisation of child health. Their reasons are both compelling and alarming.

According to Dr Cass, the UK has the worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, along with the highest rate of childhood obesity. A poll conducted by the college suggests that Britons are highly in favour of using the power of education to address these problems: 90% of those asked wanted cooking and nutrition lessons in schools, 82% wished for personal, social and health education (PSHE) to be compulsory, and over 30% wanted all junk food adverts to be banned on TV before 9pm.

It’s clear that most people in the UK agree with Caloo when we say that schools need to take an active role in the physical development of their students, in addition to their mental development. More than ever, kids are reaching adulthood ingrained in a lifestyle not conducive to a long and healthy life. Schools, which are so vital to a child’s upbringing, have to not only give children a healthy outlet to burn off their energy, but teach them the right way to care for themselves as they mature.

Regardless of who occupies 10 Downing Street after the elections, I hope that they will place child health at the core of their social policy. For, even if it’s done for the votes, there are few causes more admirable than giving our successors a foundation for a long, fulfilling life.

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Teens consuming 50% more sugar than recommended

10th March 2015

Teens consuming 50% more sugar than recommendedIt’s not hard to feel ever so slightly envious of our parents. Back then, they could eat whatever they wanted without having to worry about the repercussions and, despite that, they didn’t live in a time beset with obesity and diabetes.

So, what is different between then and now? Well, some part of it is down to the fact that we now have a greater understanding of obesity, diabetes and a multitude of related diseases caused by overeating and a lack of exercise. Another factor is that we are now consuming much more salt and sugar in our diets and eating junk food while, at the same time, leading more inactive lifestyles. This is particularly true of children and it’s why Caloo has long been committed to providing schools and local communities with outdoor gyms that inspire children, and adults, to exercise more.

Sugar is often pointed to as a reason for the poor health of our children and a recent survey has established that teenagers are consuming 50% more sugar than is recommended, with a significant culprit being energy drinks. These drinks are much higher in sugar and caffeine than other sugary drinks, prompting Action on Sugar, a campaign and research group, to call for them to be banned for children under 16 years old. The group also wants stricter limits on added sugars, in accordance with recent proposals by the WHO (World Health Organization) to cut the recommended daily sugar intake by half to 5% of total calorie consumption.

With an abundance of fruit and vegetables, and the occasional bowl of pasta or rice, already serving as excellent sources of energy, sugary drinks and snacks – let alone ones designed to “energise” you – are an overkill for our bodies. Pleasant as the temporary rush of sugar can be, its long term effects can be permanent – whether it be another notch on the belt or something more serious, resulting in a trip to the GP or A&E.

By allowing children to consume more sugar than their bodies need, we are unwittingly setting them down a path fraught with avoidable health risks. Rather than helping them concentrate or play sports better, as is claimed by energy drinks, excess sugar harms their ability to focus throughout the school day and is a gateway to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Improving their metabolism with exercise, sports and regular play can help mitigate the effects of sugar – but only as far as their diet will allow. The onus is on us – both as parents and concerned citizens – to show our children that a nutritious diet is far tastier and more rewarding than caving in to a sweet tooth.

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Grab an exercise buddy for a fitter you – the scientific proof

24th February 2015

An exercise buddy can help you be fitterAs you’ll no doubt know, one of the best ways to get the most out of your workout is to do it with a friend. Not only does exercising with a partner or friend give you a motivational boost, but time at the gym always seems to go by quicker when you’ve got company. However, if anecdotal evidence isn’t enough to convince you of this, there is now scientific proof of the benefits of exercising with a partner.

A new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine has found that couples who work together to change an unhealthy habit are more likely to be successful at it. The researchers from University College London (UCL) reported that 49% of smokers successfully quit if their partner joined them, while 66.5% of people managed to more regularly engage in physical activity. Additionally, 25% even managed to successfully lose weight thanks to the support of their partner. These results suggest that perhaps health programmes should target couples instead of individuals, and encourage spouses and friends to get their loved ones to exercise with them.

The authors’ conclusion that we should involve partners when changing bad habits makes a lot of sense when we consider that humans are social beings at their core. Whether it’s at the office or in the pub, we’re at our best when we can collaborate with colleagues or socialise with friends. The gym or park should be no different, and there are many ways in which you can make the experience even more rewarding.

Sometimes just the presence of your partner is enough, as the desire to not let them down motivates you to work harder or they give you a friendly, competitive push. You can turn the workout into a game, challenging your friends to see who can get in the most reps. You can even set goals and work as a team instead, with a reward in the end for completing it.

It doesn’t matter how you choose to do it but with a partner on your side, staying fit will simply be more effective and exhilarating. So, invite your spouse, friends, or even children to pop down to your local outdoor gym and treat yourself to some social workout time. Or better yet, if you know someone who is afraid to start exercising, offer to join them in their quest to get healthy. In time, they too will feel the long-term physical and emotional benefits of a friendly nudge.

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Do you know the difference between table tennis and ping pong?

19th February 2015

The difference between ping pong and table tennisYou’d be forgiven for being a tad confused when you hear that British table tennis star Andrew Baggaley just won the 2015 World Championship of Ping Pong (WCPP) in a sport he only plays once a year, but that is in fact what happened. The Milton Keynes native faced off against German pro Alexander Flemming in an energetic and emotional final featuring triumphant roars with every successful point – from both the competitors and fans alike.

Dominating early, Baggaley went 2-0 up before Flemming stormed back to tie the match, setting up a thrilling finale that went down to the wire. Baggaley admitted after that he had to rely on his physical fitness to edge out the victory. “I used to think that sponge bat table tennis was more physically demanding than sandpaper, but I have changed my views now,” he said.

Still, it took only a month of practice for Baggeley to get used to the differences between ping pong and table tennis, showing his versatility.

The largest difference between the two forms is in the paddle. In ping pong, the paddle is covered with a rough, sandpaper-like surface. Unlike the pimpled rubber surface found in table tennis, the rougher surface reduces the spin and speed of the ball. This slows the game down, allowing for longer rallies. The impact of longer, slower rallies is that they can make the game more engaging, while demanding greater mental and physical durability from players.

During the WCPP, players are also randomly assigned a paddle before the match, rather than bringing their own, forcing players to rely more on skill and fitness than on technology. With the popularity of the World Championship of Ping Pong only set to rise, it’s just a matter of time before we see higher specialisation amongst players, and along with it, a greater distinction between the skills required for ping pong and table tennis.

Caloo’s robust outdoor tables are made to official ITTF specifications, so if you want to try your hand at the slower variation of table tennis, all you need is the rougher paddle and a willingness to take on a raucous workout! Head on out to your local outdoor tennis table and discover if you have what it takes to succeed Baggaley as the king of ping pong. Otherwise, if his performance last month proved anything, it’s that a little versatility in your game can take you a long way.

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Obesity rates in 11 to 15-year-olds still rising

19th February 2015

Obesity rates in children reviewedAt Caloo, we’re always grateful to see our hard work with schools and local authorities pay off, especially when it comes to securing a healthy, rewarding future for the next generation.

So, parents can be encouraged by a recent report that suggests obesity in children aged 2–10 may have begun to plateau. It’s certainly welcome news to us! That said, however, it’s also too early to get complacent about eradicating one of the world’s most pressing health issues. As a society, we still have a long way to go, and whereas very young children may be showing small signs of improvement, many older kids are still in jeopardy.

Research by a team of doctors from King’s College London on the health trends of children aged 2–15 since 1994 has revealed that although over a third of all children in the UK are overweight or obese, their prevalence may have stabilised since 2004. From 1994 to 2003, the number of overweight (including obese) children increased by 8.1%. This rise slowed to 0.4% from 2004 to 2013.

The group aged from 6–10 showed the biggest improvement, going from a 9.9% increase in the first decade to a decrease of 1.2%. Conversely, the number of overweight 11 to 15-year-olds is still rising at a rate of 2.6% every year. When only obesity was considered, the results were the same: obesity in kids aged 2–10 levelled off, but kids aged 11–15 kept getting worse.

These findings show that there still needs to be more involvement by parents and schools in the well-being and fitness of children, particularly as they get older and perhaps discover a little more autonomy. Parents should take responsibility for encouraging their children to eat well and avoid long periods of inactivity, which can be even more harmful than obesity according to the claims of some studies. Meanwhile, considering children are going through this transformation while in full-time education, schools need to give their students ample opportunity and facilities to find an enjoyable means of staying fit during playtime.

For its part, Caloo will continue to professionally install fantastic playground equipment in parks and schools, advise educational boards and councils on the best layouts and safety measures, and above all, strive to enable all children to have a safe childhood filled with fresh air, sunshine, and lots of fun.

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Half a million deaths a year caused by inactivity

19th February 2015

Half a million deaths a year caused by inactivityA common misconception about health is that it’s all about the notches in your belt. We tend to think in terms of how much we weigh, not what we do to stay fit and healthy. We can be encouraged by the bathroom scale’s measurements after a month of eating right, but in reality those measurements don’t tell the whole picture. Caloo has often championed the need to get out for some exercise in the fresh air and daylight, even if that exercise is just a lap or two around the park. But new research suggests that doing so may be more important than previously thought.

While we already know that obesity can have grave consequences, researchers at the University of Cambridge have found that spending too much time on the sofa can be even more detrimental to your health, regardless of your weight.

In their paper, which was published in the AJCN (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition), the researchers attributed 676,000 deaths to inactivity (7.35% of all deaths), twice as many as those caused by obesity (337,000). Their results also indicated that an exercise level equivalent to 20 minutes of brisk walking could reduce health risks by as much as 30%. Coming after more than 330,000 participants were monitored for 12 years, these findings provide further evidence that exercise is a critical component of a healthy lifestyle. It’s simply not enough just to eat well.

This research also highlights how an increasing BMI can have a slippery slope effect. Not only did being obese increase the ‘risk of death’ by up to 20%, but exercise was less effective the higher a participant’s BMI. So, while being inactive is harmful, being inactive on the way to obesity may be significantly worse.

Nevertheless, it is heartening that even the smallest bit of physical activity can make a difference. Just 20 minutes’ worth of energetic exercise a day is enough to put you on the right path. And as one of the researchers, Professor Ulf Ekelund, told BBC News: “Twenty minutes of physical activity, equivalent to a brisk walk, should be possible for most people to include on their way to or from work, or on lunch breaks, or in the evening instead of watching TV.”

What better incentive to get out for that walk around the park than knowing that the sacrifice of skipping just a single episode of even your favourite TV show could save a year from being deducted from your life expectancy?

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Our love/hate relationship with the fitness band

26th January 2015

Love/Hate relationship with your fitness bandOnce relegated to the domain of professional athletes, fitness bands have become useful tools for tracking physical activity and all sorts of biological metrics so even the average person on the go can view progress towards their fitness goals. Excellent news for wellness in Britain as it encourages all manner of movement to raise our national fitness levels. However, while their popularity has risen enormously over the past few years some are still resisting the temptation to own one. A recent report by finance and research firm Baird stated that 85% of people have no plans to buy one, which shows that the leading brands in this arena still have a long way to go to break through our love/hate relationship with being told what to do by little techie devices.

Nowadays, there’s a fitness band for every type of individual. Devices like the Jawbone UP24 provide simplicity in a compact form, while entry-level fitness bands like the Misfit Flash are affordable yet still packed with functionality. For the more serious user, who’d like everything from monitoring their heart rate to charting their workout, the Basis Peak and Garmin Forerunner 15 are the current top candidates.

The main benefit – and drawback – of fitness bands is the data they produce, which gives you an unprecedented understanding of your daily activities and body. Wearing one motivates you to achieve daily workout goals and introduces an element of fun into keeping track of your exercise routine. However, while it is psychologically rewarding to achieve your daily goal, wearing a fitness band also means you’re beset with a constant reminder if you’re not exercising enough, nagging you to get off the sofa. While a good thing, I think you’ll agree that not everyone likes to be told what to do… even if it is for their own good!

Additionally, fitness bands present a privacy concern because of the sensitivity of the data they monitor. There are, of course, security precautions in place to prevent anyone from having access to your data, but what if these are breached? And what if it becomes normal for anyone from advertisers and health insurance companies, to your employer or the government, to look for ways to encourage you to provide them with your fitness stats? Whether it’s for monetary reasons or to report your health data to the GP, however useful the reason may be, there will be some who will still feel that this is a tad Orwellian.

At present, using a fitness band is equal parts love and hate. We love the power it gives us to know more about our bodies and reinforce good habits, but it won’t make us feel any better about the bad habits we want to change. Rather than feeling guilty about underwhelming stats, though, we should be encouraged by them to find creative ways of elevating them. Does a jog around the park feel too much like a slog to be worth improving your stats? Then perhaps a more social cardio experience at an outdoor gym will suit you. At least there you won’t be the only one with a nagging wristband to satisfy.

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DIY table tennis tables. Now anyone can play

20th January 2015

The rise of the DIY table tennis tableThe greatest moments in sports are never planned. We can believe it is destiny or fate, or that we saw it coming, but it’s the very fact that we didn’t that makes those moments so special. Everyone who loves table tennis can probably remember the moment it turned from a passing interest into something more. Perhaps it was the feeling you got as your first smash ricocheted off the table and thoroughly surprised your opponent. It could have been an energetic match between classmates that showed you the game’s speed and intensity. But the one thing that is true for all of us who are passionate about the sport is that it could only have happened because we had a chance to experience it.

Table tennis can be an expensive hobby to start, in terms of both cost and space. Table tennis tables are not small and they are not cheap, but Caloo’s outdoor ping pong tables can be found all over the UK for fans of the sport to play on for free in parks and open spaces. If you don’t have access to one of them, or access to an indoor table either, there is another way – a DIY way – that you could experience the sport for the first time or introduce it to family.

Table tennis can be played nearly anywhere. All you really need are some paddles, a table tennis ball and little bit of ingenuity. When I was at school we used a large table and a stack of books on either side to hold up a broom handle net, then our whole year used to play knockout leagues until the teachers broke things up or the bell rang for class. If you want something a little more authentic, building a home-made ping pong table can be incredibly easy with the right tools, namely medium-density fibreboard (MDF), a net, and table tennis table paint – the paint is optional, of course, but with a few green coats and some white lines, you could have a professional-looking surface in no time. Building your own table could end up being a nice weekend project, while giving you an opportunity to try the game without risking a big investment. Balls, paddles and net can be purchased for just a few pounds, tabletops are fine, but a little craftsmanship can create an additional surface (though probably 8’ x 4’ rather than the regulation 9’ x 5’ because of the maximum size MDF sheets come in, but that shouldn’t spoil any of the fun).

Ultimately, though, even an impromptu match using the dining table will give you a good idea of the enjoyment to be had. Regardless of the surface, everyone fondly remembers their most tightly contested points and heated matches.

And once you’ve gotten a taste of an exhilarating table tennis match at home, take the chance to expand it to a mini-tournament outside with friends and neighbours. If you don’t have one in your area, implore your local authority or workplace to install an indoor or outdoor table tennis table – that way, everyone can share in the competitive fun. And who knows, without having planned on it, you may soon find yourself falling in love with the game.

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