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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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New ‘healthy’ school meals guidelines simply don’t go far enough

20th January 2015

New healthy school meals rules don't go far enoughSchools all across the UK are set to give their students a much-needed nutritional boost, with new regulations on school meals coming into force at the beginning of the new term. As you’ll know from reading our blog, the fitness and well-being of children, our next generation who are facing the blight of a growing obesity problem, is of paramount importance to us. That’s why we’re so happy to see the government doing something positive, but, have they gone far enough?

Based on the new guidelines, which according to the Department for Education improve upon previously complex and bureaucratic food standards, schools and academies are to provide at least a portion a day of vegetables or salad and fruit, along with a portion of meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein. Only two portions of deep-fried, batter-coated or breadcrumb-coated food may be served each week. Meanwhile, greater emphasis has been placed on drinking water by limiting fruit juices to portions of 150ml and combination drinks to 330ml, with a maximum of 5% added sugars or honey. All this is, of course, a very good start.

Over 80% of the caterers and school cooks who took part in pilot testing reported that the revisions to the previous standards were easier to follow, along with giving them more flexibility to offer meals that were both tasty and nutritious. All in all, it means that school meals will have a more positive effect on the health of children than before, but this initiative still lacks a key component of a balanced lifestyle: physical activity.

In order for these rules to work, schools need to encourage children to be active as well. There are no better ways of engaging students in their physical activities than by letting them enjoy a sport or allowing them to play outside more. In fact, a recent paper published in the journal ‘Preventive Medicine’ found that boys who played outdoors for over an hour per day were less likely to be overweight or obese. I’m not sure why the report did not include girls, but the results were clear enough for all schools to wish to inspire the children in their care to play more.

Eating healthy food is the first step toward a rewarding and healthier life, and the government has admirably realised this. But it’s time now for us to take the next step, and it begins with helping our children to discover the joy of the playground. School meals may be complex and bureaucratic, but as Caloo’s work with schools and local councils shows, encouraging kids to be more fit doesn’t have to be any harder than letting them tackle a climbing wall or trek through an adventure trail to their heart’s content.


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Are you ready for your New Year detox?

20th January 2015

Are you ready for your New Year detox?It’s a universal truth of human life, transcending all national, gender, and age barriers – as the month turns from December to January, we are compelled to seek change and personal growth. Maybe we decide it is time to take a step up in our careers, or to reconnect with lost friends, or even to finally move to that beach pad on the sands where you can sip margaritas all day long. Alternatively, it may be something as pedestrian as realising that once again we have fallen prey to our weakness for all things sugary and the seemingly endless supply of cakes and treats over the holidays.

Failing to resist the delights of the festive season while neglecting the gym happens to the best of us, so there’s no better time than the New Year to commit to helping our bodies back into shape with a good old detox.

We’ve all seen the TV shows with celebrity detoxers trying all manner of body flushing toxin reducing trials in order to rid themselves of an unwanted addiction.

However, a detox is about more than simply flushing toxins and waste from your body. The goal of a New Year detox is to give yourself a healthy, fresh start to the year by shedding the bloat and gluttony of the holidays, which is as much a change of attitude and approach as anything else. The best way of doing that, of course, is to cut down on unhealthy food, get outside and let your body do the work it was designed for.

Seasonal desserts, left over from the holiday celebrations, will not last far into the year, so why not use that as an easy excuse to reduce your sugar intake? Simply replace your dwindling supply with fruit or more healthy options. Meanwhile, reducing alcohol consumption and drinking water instead not only gives your liver a break, but assists your kidneys in its task of flushing waste from your system. Then, you can kick-start your detox with a dose of fresh air and natural vitamin D (sunshine, what there is of it this time of year), working off the extra pounds you may have accrued over the holidays with a run around the local park or at an outdoor gym.

While there are many different ways to detox, the truth is that you don’t need to torture yourself to be healthy. A good diet and regular exercise is all it takes. The human body has evolved over millions of years to be able to take on any challenge thrown at it. And, like any efficient machine, if you take care of it, it will do the same for you.


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Junior Table Tennis Championships Take Place in China

22nd December 2014

Junior Table Tennis Championships Take Place in ChinaThis month the girls and boys of the UK World Junior Championship Table Tennis team jetted off to Shanghai to compete in a hard-fought competition.

A strong showing from Tin-Tin Ho of London and Charlotte Carey of Wales was the highlight of a good, though ultimately unsuccessful, performance from the UK contenders, with both girls reaching the last 64.

Tin-Tin also performed excellently in the girls’ doubles, reaching the last 32 with her Russian partner Sadi Ismailov. Despite eventual disappointment for the youngsters with victory going to the home nation’s Liu Gaoyang and Liang Jingkun in the girls’ and boys’ finals respectively, their efforts join the long list of achievements that demonstrate the increasing stature of the sport in the UK and its players on the international stage. Chief among these is, of course, Paul Drinkhall’s elevation to the top 50 rankings after a great year in which he has become only the second Englishman to win a World Tour event. Drinkhall’s victory in the Spanish Open and his qualification for the ITTF Grand Finals in Bangkok, put him in the running for a $100,000 top prize. Unfortunately though, despite leading twice, he was unable to progress past his first round match against Hong Kong’s Peng Tang.

Yet there remains a lot to be done to establish UK’s table tennis players as an international force to be reckoned with – though there are companies and projects that are working to do just that. At Caloo, we are doing our bit by working with businesses and public sector organisations to install damage and weather proof outdoor table tennis tables across the country in a range of styles. Table Tennis England is offering coaching and events in many regions, and both operate in conjunction with the NHS Change4Life programme. Together with a generation of promising junior players looking to follow the trail that Drinkhall is blazing, things are certainly heading in the right direction.

Table tennis is a fun, energetic sport as well as a great and space-efficient cardio exercise so it seems like the perfect tonic for a number of ills. With local government selling off playing fields, and with childhood obesity rising , table tennis offers children the opportunity to maximise their fitness, to socialise and grow in confidence, as well as having the potential to make a real difference to the sport both nationally and internationally.

For any parents looking for a sport that can be played almost anywhere and which, in the words of Table Tennis England is “easy to pick up and play”, there is information available on the Table Tennis England website, as well as entry forms for National Cadet and National Junior leagues for when confidence and skill allows. And, of course, there are plenty of outdoor tables installed by Caloo for experienced and newbies to the sport to play on free of charge.


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Our top 6 affordable fitness gifts for Christmas

19th December 2014

Caloo has long been dedicated to helping people to improve their fitness but at this time of year, you too can give the gift of get up and go. We’re not going to recommend converting the garage into a fitness complex, or jetting off on an alpine cycling adventure – money is tight for most people at the moment, but fitness need not be expensive and, therefore, the following items can be purchased for less than £100 each. So, if you have a loved one whose normal festive exercise regime tends towards just the mince pie lift and gravy boating, then we have the perfect suggestions to help you get them up and moving.

1. A Swiss (exercise) Ball

Our top 6 affordable fitness gifts for Christmas - Swiss Ball

Thanks to PublicDomainPictures for photo

Combining normal exercises such as sit-ups and press-ups with a Swiss Ball, better engages the core muscles due to the constant, minute adjustments your body makes to maintain balance, making the simplest of exercises much more efficient toning tools. Combine this with the value and overall versatility of the ball and you’ve got the perfect holiday season gift for dealing with the post-holiday season paunch.

2. Resistance Bands
Another extremely versatile piece of exercise equipment – resistance bands can be used to mimic a variety of types of gym equipment or sporting manoeuvres to work a number of muscle groups, whether for strength training or enhancing cardio. These easily stored bands are a great buy.

3. Yoga Mat
A yoga mat, despite its name, is useful for more than just yoga. Offering a comfortable surface, the mat can remove the comfort concerns that can sometimes prevent exercise in the home, cushioning your back during sit-ups and your hands during press-ups. It is also a convenient napping area if you push it too far on day one…

4. Skipping Rope

Our top 6 affordable fitness gifts for Christmas - Skipping rope

Thanks to Sharky for photo

The skipping rope will inspire a new sense of respect in anyone trying it for the first time. Even assuming they can avoid tripping or tangling the first few times, the intensity of skipping as a cardio exercise will add further wonder to any adult puzzled as to where children get their energy from.

5. A Good Fitness App
There are a number of apps out there such as step counters, cycling apps, calorie trackers, etc., for both Apple and Android products that will help you keep track of individual activity. However, if one were to invest in the next suggestion, the free Misfit App does all of this and more in conjunction with…

6. Misfit Shine Activity Tracker
A beautifully designed, sleek and hardy tracker which, when used with the Misfit app, allows you to keep track of all of your health and fitness activities while offering motivational achievements, an active community of users, progress charts and much more.

Of course, in the joyous euphoria of giving to others, you should not forget about yourself, and that’s where Caloo comes in. We have been working with local authorities and businesses up and down the country to help them to provide the public with free outdoor fitness equipment in parks, office external areas, schools and other locations. You’ll no doubt have seen exercise bikes and cardio equipment popping up in open spaces and parkland in your area. So, give yourself the gift of well-being this Christmas and pop down to your local outdoor gym, no membership needed, and start your New Year off the right way for a fitter, happier future.


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Lose weight and quit smoking or you could be denied routine surgery in the future

19th December 2014
Lose weight and quit smoking or you could be denied routine surgery in future

Thanks to PublicDomainPictures for photo

When the Beveridge Report was published in 1942, it aimed to address the ‘Five Giant Evils’ in society – squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease, and it was from this report that Clement Attlee’s Labour Government brought into being what came to be known as ‘The Welfare State’, a major part of which was the creation of the National Health Service. Today, as the NHS strains under the weight of budgetary and waiting list targets, certain CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) are considering measures that would deny routine surgery to people whose life-style choices may have contributed to their current health issues and, if left unchecked, would certainly impact on their future life expectancy. Chief among these are morbid obesity – which means having a body mass index (BMI) in excess of 35 – and smoking.

While requiring people to take more responsibility for their own health is a valid reason for such a move, this does seem to conflict with the organisation’s founding principle – to offer support ‘for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the grave’. Such thinking also overlooks the relationship between obesity levels, smoking, and poverty. So denying treatment to these groups becomes, in essence, a form of ‘social Darwinism’. What should be done is for society once more to band together to tackle those ‘Five Giant Evils’ which are still present today.

What is required is to face the causes of the present situation rather than to allow them to become a problem. We need to tackle childhood and adult obesity rates at their source by encouraging exercise and healthy living. It is for this reason that the NHS Change4Life and Healthy Start programmes should be broadened and prioritised and why endeavours to convince local government to enable free access to exercise equipment in more parks and communal areas for people unable to afford exorbitant gym memberships should be encouraged.

The present initiatives proposed by the NHS NEW Devon CCG amongst others, as a statement from the Royal College of Surgeon’s posits, will simply result in ‘greater pressures’ in the future. We cannot wave a wand and abolish poverty – a large contributor to ill health, obesity and smoking uptake – but we can encourage present and future generations to lead healthier lives simply by making it easier to do so. By providing the right infrastructure and education we can ensure that such measures as the banning of routine surgery for any section of the population will not only be unnecessary, but looked back on by our grandchildren with the incredulity we reserve for other social injustices of the past.


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Mediterranean diet helps fight obesity

19th December 2014
Thanks go to LoboStudioHamburg for photo

Thanks go to LoboStudioHamburg for photo

It is at this time of year that the rest of the nation joins the health and fitness conscious by turning their collective thoughts to all matters calorific.

You won’t be able to help it, and whether over dinner or a pint, you’ll find yourself debating the relative merits of pre- and post-holiday training regimes, whether a prospective gym membership should run from December or January, and whether the early morning or late evening darkness is better to camouflage your jogging efforts. Then there is the dreaded word, well, for most of us anyway – ‘diet’. Now this need not mean calorie restriction or fads that exclude one food or another in an extreme detox. In fact, as the BBC has recently reported, a study published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal (PMJ) has found that diet, rather than dieting, may well be the best way to tackle increasing obesity statistics and reduce the risks of strokes and heart attacks. The effectiveness of one diet in particular was praised above all others in the report – that of the Mediterranean region, encompassing Greece, Spain and Italy.

With its focus on natural fats, proteins and sugar, from seafood, nuts, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, it caters for the body’s nutritional requirements more efficiently than the typical diets of those in the UK and US that feature far more processed food. Humankind actually has a lot to thank this diet for, or a diet very similar – it is believed to be one of the main reasons for the rapid expansion in the brains of early humans and the resultant success of our species. It cannot be overstated that this energy rich and natural diet (common not only in the Mediterranean, but also in hunter-gatherer societies throughout the world) has been integral to the development of modern humans, and so it is really no wonder that its benefits greatly exceed those of more concocted modern fad diets, or the periodic weight-loss regimes of the guilty gym-goer or crash dieter.

The best thing about this diet, though, is how much easier it is to maintain because of the huge range of healthy, nutritious, but best of all genuinely tasty, recipes which allow for a variety of preferences, thereby avoiding the sometimes irresistible urge to ‘cheat’. It’s far easier to persist in something you are actually enjoying.

Combine this fabulous Mediterranean diet with regular exercise, preferably outdoors, even in this wintry weather, including relaxing walks or cycle rides, or a trip to the outdoor fitness equipment at your local park that you’ll be seeing popping up all over the place, thanks to Caloo. It has never been easier to make a real change for the better – to our lives and our health – without feeling as though we’re even trying.


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How to reduce your risk of getting diabetes by up to 80%

28th November 2014
New hope for those with Diabetes

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A team of doctors has discovered that weight loss surgery can decrease your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by an astounding 80%. In the study, published by The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal on 3 November, only 1.7% of obese patients developed diabetes within seven years of their bariatric surgery (such surgery typically includes gastric banding, gastric bypass, and sleeve gastrectomy), compared with 8.2% from the control group.

In the UK alone, 3.2 million people are living with the knowledge that they have diabetes, while it is estimated that 630,000 more are living with the disease without knowing it. Diabetes is one of the leading 10 causes of death in the world, with the number of sufferers on the rise. According to the International Diabetes Federation, as many as 592 million people around the globe will have diabetes by 2035, which makes prevention just as important as finding new ways to manage the disease.

While a promising finding, weight loss surgery is still a very drastic step, and, therefore, it is considered a last resort when someone is dangerously obese but hasn’t been able to successfully lose weight using other methods and treatments. It is an unfortunate fact that the risks can sometimes outweigh the benefits because bariatric surgery is prone to the same complications as many other surgical procedures. The most common problems include gallstones, stomal stenosis (when food blocks the hole connecting the stomach pouch to the small intestine), having the gastric band slip out of place, or even an unexplainable intolerance to certain types of food.

Simon O’Neill, the Director of Health Intelligence at Diabetes UK, agrees that such intrusive surgical procedures should be reserved only for when there is no other way. Instead, as he told BBC News: “Looking at the bigger picture, as a society we also need to focus more on stopping people becoming overweight.”

Outdoor fitness funThe easiest and safest way to maintain a good weight and minimise your risk of diabetes is a regular dose of exercise and a good diet. These not only circumvent the need for expensive invasive surgery later on in life, but enhance your quality of life. Gyms and playgrounds all across the UK are giving people a healthier dimension to a day out, whether it is with our children or friends. Especially with the chill of winter settling in, getting an outdoor workout with friends can feel invigorating – all while getting ahead of a life-limiting disease.

Preventing diabetes can really be as simple as stopping by the local park once in a while for a workout!


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Can you get fit doing housework?

25th November 2014

Get fit doing houseworkIt sounds like the answer to every woman’s (or stay-at-home dad’s) prayers – evidence to suggest that mopping the floors or cleaning the dishes can have a fitness effect equivalent to slogging it out down the gym or at the running track. But can performing regular housework really help you get – and stay – fit?

Experts recommend that we try to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity – or 75 minutes of vigorous activity – every week. And while there will always be those who can’t stay away from the gym and those that wake every day at the crack of dawn to squeeze in a run before work, the majority of us struggle to fit that much exercise into our schedules. So can everyday housework really count towards your physical workout goal?

According to researchers from the BBC’s ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’, a variety of household chores including vacuuming, mopping, washing windows, planting flowers, washing the car and mowing the lawn all score a 3 or above on the ‘MET’ scale – a measure of energy consumed by hour. Anything above 3 is considered to be within the scope of moderately intense physical activity, so when performed for long periods of time these chores could well contribute to overall good health and fitness.

Regular exerciseHowever, most experts agree that household chores are no substitute for a dedicated workout regime. While a spot of housework could help you achieve the levels of exercise required to maintain your current level of fitness, anyone looking to improve their general health and stamina needs to look beyond the scope of everyday tasks and towards an established regime of regular exercise. Whether it’s twice-weekly visits to the gym or a quick run around the park every other morning, there are plenty of easy and time-efficient ways of working exercise into your weekly routine.

If you’re looking for more ‘stealth’ ways of keeping fit, there are certain everyday tasks with MET scores that classify them as intense physical activity – why not try giving your floors and bathtub a good scrub (an MET of 6.5), digging deep in the garden (7.8) or taking up disco, folk or Irish dancing (7.8)? Even brisk walking, if sustained for long enough, can help to contribute towards a decent weekly workout.

While exercising in the garden or the local park has obvious financial benefits, there’s another reason to choose simple, everyday training over a session in the gym. As winter draws nearer and dark nights close in, outdoor exercise is also a fantastic source of important Vitamin D from the sun that will help keep you healthier throughout the colder months. So, put a little extra effort into your housework, but don’t forget to get down to your local outdoor gym at the weekend for a good workout and a bathe in the sun’s rays (even if they’re not particularly warm this time of year).


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