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London Marathon Training Series, Month #6: New Year, New Me, Well…

1st February 2016

London Marathon Training Series, Month #6: New Year, New Me, Well…As Christmas and New Year become a distant memory, how many of you are keeping up with your resolutions for 2016? Have they already been pushed aside in favour of an obsession with the latest reality TV show or a craving for chocolate, or have you remained true to your promise to yourself? Each year the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are about losing weight or getting fitter, but each year the majority of us don’t even make it out of January before we’re back to our bad old ways again.

Not for our Jim. He’s not a statistic; when he puts his mind to something he sticks to it, well, if he didn’t then his wife Louise would certainly steer him back on course! Jim’s been training for this year’s London Marathon, which he reminded me today is less than 100 days away – gulp! And with the new year has come new vigour, new vim, and new challenges. But I’m not going to waffle on about it, as he’s the best person to tell us about what’s been going on in our monthly interview with Jim Hicks, Marathon newbie in training.

“OK, so I slipped. I said I would. I predicted that the lure of the Christmas dinner table would get the better of me, and it did – I’m only human after all. But I also promised that I would start the year anew and put in the extra effort to work off any additional poundage that I may, or may not, have put on in that time. I’m true to my word, so as the New Year holiday rolled around I was already pounding the miles away. The longest of my training runs being 15 miles – accompanied by a couple of the chaps from my running group who were mad enough to get up early to join me at 8am on a near freezing morning run in the rain (or was it sleet?), but we all made it through.

Unfortunately, I found out once again the hard way that you can take these things too far. I signed up to a four-week intensive training programme at my local gym – three mornings a week of intensive training (alongside my running club activities) – but two weeks in, while doing the dreaded ‘burpees’ (it’s a much hated circuit training exercise) I managed get a groin injury. So that was me out of action for a couple of weeks. Not completely, because I’ve managed to keep going to the gym and modify my training to compensate, but no running. It seems to be working as I’ve lost a further 6½ inches combined off my chest, gut and sitting-down side. It may have helped that post-Christmas I am back on my diet – no bread, no pasta, basically if it’s got flavour it’s not allowed. However, on Monday I’m going to be starting up again, carefully at first, and join in on a ten-week award-winning circuit training programme that Pioneer Fitness are running for us in Moorside Park, using the Caloo fitness equipment of course, so I can once again get back on track.

We’re kicking things up a gear as well, because I discovered that the National Trust organises free-to-enter 10k runs on their estates every month so, with some friends from the running club, I’m planning to do them on a regular basis to help with the training.

Finally, on Valentine’s Day, the Love Moorside online campaign is having an event to help raise some more money for the London Marathon run – it’s an auction, but not just any old auction, Louise has been busy phoning around and we’ve got a treasure trove of goodies for you to bid on, including signed bits and pieces from the Strictly Come Dancing dancers and signed Commonwealth Games Team Scotland kit from Olympian superstar Dan Purvis. There’ll be lots more as well, so make sure you log in on the day.

With 100 days to go, it’s beginning to feel very real, but I’m confident that despite toe injuries, groin injury, and false starts, I WILL be ready for the Marathon.”

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Improve staff productivity with a table tennis table at your workplace

1st February 2016

Improve staff productivity with a table tennis table at your workplaceIn a business world where people are increasingly being asked to work harder for longer hours one company – Agent Marketing in Liverpool – has decided to take a very different approach. BBC’s The One Show dedicated a segment to them and the ITV News also sent a reporter to take a look.

Agent Marketing is a creative company, so they will naturally be a little more ‘out there’ with their staff retention and productivity improvement strategies, but this one is quite extreme. Essentially, they only work for six hours a day in an attempt to ensure that their staff have a good work-life balance. And, in those six hours they not only have to complete all their daily work, but they have the opportunity to join in on a number of activities designed to help them relax or de-stress. Yoga, meditation and a monthly hot stone massage are on the menu, as is table tennis, as a fun, energetic activity that can help staff members bond, encourage healthy competition and take them away from their desks in order to help them to think outside the box.

“The theory is that concentrating on mindfulness reduces stress, increases productivity and encourages mental clarity,” reported a journalist on ITV News. The business owner said that the idea was to look after his staff better so they would be able to do better work for their clients. He claims that absenteeism and punctuality have significantly improved.

It is certainly true that a tired workforce under pressure are likely to make mistakes and innovative thinking will be replaced with more formulaic solutions, and that cannot be good for most businesses. It is also true that some encouragement by management to get involved in team-building activities and forced ‘downtime’ can help release staff to use their imaginations more. And, while a table tennis table may not be right for every business, we at Caloo have seen an increase in demand for our outdoor table tennis tables from local authorities, organisations and institutions over the years as the sport has become more and more popular in the UK.

If you would like to find out about how easy it is to have a table tennis table installed at your workplace, contact us today or take a look at some of our most popular models here.

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The truth about sugar-free – what they are not telling you

1st February 2016

The truth about sugar-free – what they are not telling youSugar is bad for us. Well, that’s what the latest campaign for wellness by the government and health groups is telling us. Yesterday it was salt, today it’s sugar. The obesity epidemic has been blamed on sweet things, too much sugar added to, well, pretty much everything. So is sugar-free the way to go, what are those sweetening ingredients, and what do they do to our bodies?

There are currently calls for a sugar tax, for a ban on sweet things advertising around schools, and on fast food advertising on TV before the watershed, all to make eating things with sugar in them, especially soft drinks, less attainable, for our own good. But are they aiming at the right target, and are the alternatives any healthier anyway?

On the face of it, maybe. A typical 500ml bottle of fizzy drink has around 200 calories floating around in it, whereas some diet equivalents have just one single solitary calorie. So that’s case closed isn’t it, sugar-free wins. But wait a moment, a study in the journal Obesity assessed several thousand people over eight years and found that those who consumed sugar-free products actually put on the most weight. Studies have not yet found a consensus, but it seems that sweeteners fool the body into thinking it’s about to take in calories – so when it realises that it isn’t actually getting those calories, this actually makes you more hungry. People who swap sugary drinks for the sugar-free variety often find their appetites increase and they consume more food, but a further study, also published in Obesity Journal, found that while this may be the case, those in their study actually lost weight when they swapped their soft drink drinking habits. No consensus as I said.

The three most commonly used artificial sweeteners are Aspartame, Saccharin and Stevia. Most well-known of them all is Aspartame, and it is also the most controversial. It’s been in our food as a sugar substitute since the 1980s, but it has also been linked to many negative side-effects such as allergies and cancer. But, try to find a soft drink that does not have Aspartame in it, and you’ll be searching for some time. The European Food Safety Authority has pronounced a few years ago that it is perfectly safe, but its negative reputation remains an issue.

So, the long and the short of it is that if you are careful with what you eat and you’re aware of the fact that it might increase your appetite, swapping your sugary fizzy drinks for the sugar-free kind could help you to lose weight, if you’re prepared to lose any worries about unproven side-effects. But of course best of all is just to ditch the fizzy for the still – still water that is – as there’s no substitute for it when you’re exercising to stay fit.

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UK report suggests obesity could cause 670,000 new cases of cancer over the next 20 years

1st February 2016

670,000 new cases of cancer over the next 20 years due to obesityEarlier this month the BBC ran a story about researchers using a computer model and some of the most up-to-date health data to predict how fit and well we will all be in 2035. Unfortunately it does not look good, digitally speaking.

The study found, not surprisingly, that we’re all getting heavier, and scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggest that each 2 to 2.5 stone (13 to 16 kilograms) of extra weight an average adult puts on increases their risk of contracting one or more of six cancers – cancer of the uterus, kidney, gall bladder, cervix, thyroid or blood (leukaemia). How much this risk will increase depends on the adult and the cancer, but it is a risk nonetheless.

It is not yet known exactly why obesity increases the risk of cancer, but some theories are that excess fatty tissues stimulate the production of hormones that could disrupt normal cell growth or that this could impede proteins that keep cell growth in control.

The computer model didn’t stop there, though we wish it had, because it also predicted 4.6 million more cases of Type-2 diabetes and 1.6 million more cases of heart disease in the same time frame.

We now all know the risks of smoking and as a result, thankfully, fewer and fewer people are smoking here in the UK. Unfortunately, despite the common awareness of the dangers of being overweight, obesity, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a growing problem. With no dip in the figures – as statistics on children as young as nursery age and adults into their old age all suggest a worsening problem of epidemic proportions – what can be done to turn the tide?

The report has suggested a sugar tax, something that has been bounced around for a while now, and a ban on advertising before 9pm to keep younger people from being influenced by their televisual boxes, but more needs to be done… much more. While technology moves on at pace, health advice has remained the same for a generation, and is as true today as it was when it was first uttered: that the cure for obesity is a good diet and exercise. Sugar taxes are the domain of the government, school lunch health the domain of the likes of Jamie Oliver, but exercise, well, that’s our domain. So if you want your kids to have access to better play and exercise equipment at school, if you want your local park to have an outdoor gym, or your workplace to get fitness equipment for the benefit of all its employees, then speak to the relevant parties (school board, local authority, the boss) and give them our details. We’re here to help the nation get fitter.

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London Marathon Training Series, Month #5: Run Rudolph Run!

28th December 2015

London Marathon Training Series, Month #5: Run Rudolph RunAs keen readers of our blog among you may have noticed, we did not have a Month #4 interview with Jim. He was just training too darn hard for his mega-run next year, a testament to his commitment, the support of his running group and, of course, our outdoor workout equipment that they use to warm up and cool down on while training.

So, Jim, what have you been up to these last couple of months?

“Well, it’s been a gruelling eight weeks or so. Now that my training is in full swing – despite continued niggling from my dodgy foot (but less said about that the better) – I’m doing all that I can to not only train three times a week, but to get involved in as many charity runs as possible so I can get used to the competitive ‘fun’ of the fun run and raise as much money as possible for charity in the process.

The two that I’ve done most recently were the MoRunner 10k in Croxteth Country Park in Liverpool, and a Superheroes charity workout event with the PT Unit (Pioneer Fitness) which is the fitness studio I attend and also one of my marathon sponsors.

The MoRunner was a blast – at 10k it was a challenge and a half because I’m still building my running stamina – but at least I didn’t need to buy a comedy ’tash, as I grew one of my own especially for the occasion! Running this was by no means a breeze, so once again I was reminded of the need to train, train, train for the big day next year so I can make it through.

I love running for charity, so when my fitness trainers announced that they were going to be having a charity event I jumped at the chance to be involved, only to find out that that it actually involved seven classes back to back in seven hours. Boy, was that tough work. I think the 10k was probably easier! Dress code was superhero costumes, so of course I went as the Hulk – not a surprise for anyone who knows me, but it certainly would have been cooler in my usual training gear! Anyway, the end result was a nice contribution to the NSPCC and Macmillan Nurses, so it was well worth the sweat and tears (no blood this time).

Aside from that, we’ve passed two important milestones in our journey to the starting line of the London Marathon. Firstly, I’ve finally got my running kit for next year’s big day, proudly peppered with logos from those lovely organisations that were kind enough to help me to get this far – including Caloo of course, thanks Andrew and the gang. And secondly, ta da! We’ve set up our Virgin Money Giving page (essentially it’s the same as the JustGiving system), so (unashamed plug warning), I’d really be grateful to any of you who decided to sponsor me for the big day. It doesn’t have to be much, but it all goes to a great cause – the continued maintenance of our local park where the kids love to play and a whole host of community activities take place, thanks to the sterling work of community group Friends of Moorside Park,

Well, it’s mid-December, and my diet has already started to slip, so I’ll just have to train all the harder in the new year if I’m going to make it past the finish line. Thank you Andrew and Caloo for your continued support, and I hope to do you proud next summer.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and an energetic New Year!”

Those sentiments go for us as well. Have a great holiday season and we’ll catch up with Jim again in the new year. Have a wonderful 2016.

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Men, something for you to think about. Your weight can affect your children at a genetic level

20th December 2015

Men, something for you to think about. Your weight can affect your children at a genetic levelWe all know that when they are pregnant, women should look after themselves all the more carefully. Just a small amount of dietary discipline and care during the prenatal period can greatly benefit the health of both mother and child, and while that glass of wine or cheeseburger may be tempting, sacrifices tend to seem insignificant when compared to the joys of motherhood and the creation of a healthy and happy baby.

Yet a new study suggests that when it comes to starting a family, it isn’t just mums who need to be mindful of their lifestyle choices. Any dad-to-be wanting to give his child the healthiest start in life should be watching what he eats too.

This new research, carried out at the University of Copenhagen, has found that a man’s weight affects the genetic information passed on through his sperm. The study tested the sperm of six obese men who were undergoing weight loss surgery, finding that there were noticeable changes to the participant’s sperm as they lost weight over the following year.

Most worryingly, the changes recorded are linked to the genes known for appetite control and brain development and suggest that an obese man could pass on genetic information to his children that leaves them predisposed to obesity.

Obesity is one of the most menacing epidemics of our times. Just this month the UK’s chief medical officer Professor Sally Davies hit the headlines after releasing a report suggesting that obesity is such a burden on the nation’s health that it should be elevated to the level of a “national risk”.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Professor Davies stresses that “it is never too late to take action for a healthier lifestyle for you and your family”, which is something we have always firmly believed at Caloo. No matter what your genetic make-up, anyone can take affirmative action to fend off the blight of obesity by eating well and staying active.

We’re devoted to improving the health of the nation. From playground equipment for schools and public spaces to outdoor gyms for public parks and office spaces, our spectrum of outdoor fitness equipment has got the whole family covered. So if you want to take the health and fitness of you and your loved ones into your own hands, check out our range today.

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GB Para Table Tennis Team gets its second #1 ranked player

20th December 2015

GB Para Table Tennis Team gets its second #1 ranked playerAfter a series of disappointing football and rugby world cups, it’s always reassuring to see a Briton reach the summit of their sporting field. Which is why we are delighted with the news that Rob Davies, the European para table tennis champion, has regained the ITTF PTT world number one ranking in men’s class 1, meaning that the Great Britain Table Tennis Team will go into Paralympic year with two of its athletes at world number one.

Davies, a 31-year-old from Wales, joins the distinguished company of Kent-born Will Bayley, who is ranked number one in men’s class 7. Davies successfully defended his European title in October this year, defeating the then world number one Jean-Francois Ducay in the final of the European Championships in Denmark. He has called his return to the number one spot “an early Christmas present”.

As is the case with many para-athletes, the story of Davies’s rise to the top is hugely inspiring. While he was playing as a semi-professional rugby player in 2005, a collapsed scrum left Davies with a broken neck. Despite initially being informed that he wouldn’t recover movement in his legs and arms, he was determined not to leave the sporting world behind. During his rehabilitation he met Welsh table tennis player Sara Head, who introduced him to her sport. Astonishingly, just seven years after being told he would never walk again Davies was competing in the London 2012 Olympic games.

After working so hard against all odds to get where he is, there is no danger of Davies getting complacent. He has assured fans that his new ranking will only make him more motivated to prove he is where he belongs, stating in an interview: “It will give me confidence and spur me on to prove that I am top of my class and give me motivation to train harder to try and stay there.”

It’s great to see British sportspeople excel in one of our favourite sports. We sell some of the world’s finest outdoor table tennis tables, and we know that in every park there is a child with a paddle who – with the kind of self-belief and determination that has seen Davies reach the top – is a future champion in the making.

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Why are primary schools the epicentre of an obesity epidemic?

20th December 2015

Why are primary schools the epicentre of an obesity epidemic?We’re sad to say that more troubling childhood obesity figures have been released by the government’s health and social care information centre. The data for 2014-2015 shows that one in ten children were obese at the start of primary school in England last year, but for those at the end of their primary schooling the figure was one in five.

The number of obese reception-year children has fallen slightly, but figures for those in year six are on the rise, leading to questions about whether more can be done to ensure that primary schooling has a positive impact on children’s health. The Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, Simon Gillespie, has called the statistics “simply unacceptable”.

The new statistics also reveal a disturbingly stark divide between children from poor backgrounds and those from more affluent households, with children from deprived areas twice as likely to be obese as those from other parts of England.

At Caloo we want children to have a healthiest possible start in life, regardless of their background. Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults, and are, therefore, more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. The latest figures may be depressing, but we are more committed than ever to battle against the scourge of childhood obesity.

We all know that staying active is central to the health of any child. Playtime shouldn’t mean sitting in front of a PlayStation – it should be about trying new activities, learning new skills, and forming new friendships. It is vital to show children how much fun sports and exercise can be.

We are extremely proud of the little part we play in helping school children to find enjoyment in their active play, supplying competitively priced, durable playground equipment for children of all ages, as well as the kind of quality sports facilities that encourage children to put the controller down and pick up a paddle and ball.
So, if you want to help bring the fight to childhood obesity, have a look at our extensive range and call us for any advice you may need.

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The high-tech table tennis coaching of the future

19th November 2015

The high-tech table tennis coaching of the futureProminent individuals in the world of science and technology, including Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, were in the news recently after co-signing a letter discussing the potential dangers of advanced artificial intelligence. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but they really do worry about what could happen if we take the digital mind too far. Fortunately, the latest robot unveiled by Japanese electronics company Omron shouldn’t cause any such problems. The 2.7-meter-tall, intelligent robot may conjure distressing images of The Terminator for some, but don’t panic, this AI just wants to teach you how to play table tennis.

Omron’s table tennis robot uses a sophisticated array of cameras and sensors to monitor a moving ball 80 times a second. Its first iteration dazzled the media after demonstrating that it can hold a simple rally almost indefinitely.

Yet now, with a few adaptations, its potential as a high-tech table tennis tutor is being realised. Omron’s latest model is not just capable of predicting where its paddle needs to be, it can also indicate, via LED lighting, where its return shot is going to bounce.

Like any good teacher, the robot also takes the skill level of its student into account. A badly hit slow ball will be returned gently, while a well hit ball will be returned with pace, to keep the rally moving fluidly. If the human player completely skews their shot, missing the table entirely, the robot will make a futile lunge towards the ball, so it ‘appears to make an effort.’ What a good sport!

But don’t worry, this particular robot isn’t likely to bruise all our egos any time soon. It needs a bit of work before it can threaten a human in a proper competitive match, as it hasn’t quite mastered how to cope with spin. Still, the potential of this technology is hugely exciting. Omron’s table tennis robot demonstrates how we can harness technology to help players of the future learn, strategise, and ultimately improve their table tennis game.

Technological innovations such as this can’t help but stoke the imagination. It isn’t too far-fetched to envision a future in which artificial intelligence can be incorporated within robotic table tennis coaches, and then programmed, or ‘taught’, to align with the talents and techniques of the best players in the world, allowing the next generation of players to take their skills to a whole new level.

A commercial release for Omron’s robot tutor seems a fair way off, but in the meantime, table tennis remains a remarkably accessible sport. At Caloo we sell some of the world’s finest outdoor table tennis tables, so if you’re looking to master the sport, or just to have some fun with your non-android friends, click to check out our range.

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Record-breaking stroller in Marathon run

19th November 2015

Record-breaking stroller in Marathon runEvery now and then someone in the personal fitness world accomplishes a feat of such self-belief, determination and durability that we can’t help but feel inspired. Step forward Jessica Bruce, the 32-year-old mum who recently earned our huge respect by breaking a world record at the Abingdon marathon.

Jessica finished with an incredible time of 3:17:26, an incredibly fast pace for any female marathon runner. Yet it’s the manner in which she achieved this time that truly astonishes. Jessica ran the entirety of the 26.2-mile race pushing her seven-month-old son, Daniel, in his pushchair, making Jessica the fastest woman to ever complete a marathon while pushing a stroller.

A lifelong fitness enthusiast, Jessica was back out running just four months after she gave birth to Daniel. Her husband David, a doctor, works long hours, so Jessica would take Daniel along while she trained near their family home in Oxford. It was while training with Daniel in tow that Jessica realised that the previous Guinness World Record for completing a marathon with a stroller – 3:31:45 – was a time that she was more than capable of beating.

Young Daniel didn’t seem to get too caught up in the excitement of marathon day, as he reportedly slept soundly for much of the race. David ran alongside his wife every step of the way, offering his support and holding a bottle for their son. He made sure not to touch the stroller though, so that he didn’t risk infringing her remarkable record.

Here at Caloo we love to hear stories of people pushing themselves (or others for that matter!) to such extraordinary levels. Jessica is a shining example of how something as demanding as motherhood needn’t prevent someone from achieving their personal fitness goals. We’ve become one of the UK’s leading outdoor fitness equipment companies because we are so passionate about helping the entire nation – its mothers and fathers, its employees and schoolchildren – to become fitter and healthier.

We produce a wide range of high-quality exercise products for the outdoors, from playground equipment to outdoor gyms, which we have proudly provided to schools, businesses and local authorities for over 20 years. So, if you’re interested in improving the fitness of your staff, schoolchildren or borough, click here to find out more.

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