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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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Study shows how to reduce your obesity risk by over 60%

19th November 2015

Study shows how to reduce your Obesity risk by over 60 percentWe all know that keeping our bodies on the move is a vital part of staying healthy and fending off the threat of obesity. Here on the Caloo blog we have frequently spoken about the health risks of staying static for too long, and with good reason. Today we’d like to bring to your attention the results of yet another study that’s been done on this subject.

The American Cancer Society – in collaboration with The Cooper Institute, the University of Texas and the University of Georgia – conducted a study which has suggested that just by being on your feet and moving around, you could be reducing your obesity risk by over 60%.

The study has linked standing up for at least a quarter of a day with lowered odds of obesity for both men and women. Among men, standing for a quarter of the day was linked to a 32% reduction in the likelihood of obesity (body fat percentage), whereas standing for half of the time was concurrent with a 59% risk reduction. For women, standing for a quarter, a half, and three-quarters of the time was associated with 35%, 47% and 57% respective reductions in the likelihood of abdominal obesity (waist circumference).

There’s no doubt about it, these are interesting figures. And this also ties in with a message we conveyed in one of our articles a while back that introducing standing desks into the workplace can help to create a much healthier working environment.

The study’s most eye-catching statistic is reserved for men who stand for up to three-quarters of the day and who also meet expected physical activity guidelines, as this results in an astonishing 64% reduced likelihood of abdominal obesity.

This statistic emphasises the fact that any benefits you gain from just standing can be significantly improved by taking a more mobile approach to your health and fitness.

So, while standing is a start, if you truly care about the likelihood of you or someone you love falling foul of the scourge of obesity, get up and get outside, soak in the great outdoors, and use Caloo’s outdoor fitness equipment in a park near you. Besides, isn’t it more enjoyable to run, row and ride, than to just stand around?

Here at Caloo we specialise in motivating ordinary people to exercise and stay active, and our wide range of outdoor facilities pose the question – regardless of the health benefits of just standing – why would anyone want to stay still?

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London Marathon Training Series, Month #3: Training Starts in Earnest

29th October 2015

London Marathon Training Series, Month #3: Training Starts in EarnestIt’s Month #3 already, a quarter of a year into the story of Jim’s trial by trainer, his preparations for his first ever London Marathon next year. And because we’re sponsoring him on the big day, we’ve agreed to catch up with him once a month to see how the training is going – for moral support.

Jim and I met when we installed one of our outdoor gyms in his local open space, Moorside Park. And he and his running club have been using our fitness equipment as part of their warm-up or cool-down ever since. Jim’s wife is on the Friends of Moorside Park committee, and truth be told, it was her who gently persuaded/volunteered Jim for the marathon in the first place. But good ‘soldier’ that he is, he agreed and started what has already been an eventful training routine. Well, when I say ‘routine’ I really mean ‘false start’ up until now because of a rather painful accident he had almost immediately after he’d agreed to take part (no kind deed goes unpunished Jim!). However, this month’s news is very different, but I’ll let Jim tell you that.

“Wow! What a month. It has been so different from the two that have gone before because, wait for it… I’ve actually started training (pause for applause!).

My toe healed up (finally), I’m seeing a great foot health practitioner – Joanne Brennan –who is helping me with inserts for my shoes to support my dodgy foot (well, if something’s going to go dodgy with age I’d rather it was my foot!). My juice detox courtesy of Rawfully Good helped me to lose 10lbs (and boy can I feel the difference) and I’m continuing to focus on losing more of my girth before race day. Oh, and I’m back in training.

I’m up to 10k right now which is not bad for me, and the plan is to up that to 25k in November and then to be able to complete at least 30k stretches by Christmastime, when I have a feeling my diet may take a little bit of a hit!

I have to say I am so grateful for all the support that I’ve been getting, not only from Caloo for their moral and financial support, but also from Pioneer Fitness who have helped me with their training in the park. And special mention has to go out to Chris Beasley, Andy Cutts, Giles Horton, Elizabeth Van Duyvenbode, Sue Deaves, Sarah Thomson, and Kat McKee. These are my running support group, the guys and gals who have broken off from our usual Tuesday training just to help me with my marathon training on those cold (and usually wet) Sunday mornings. Without them I’m sure I’d not be where I am today.

So, training is going well, the final designs have been approved for the T-shirts and they’ll be printed shortly (with all our sponsors’ logos I’ll have on there I’m sure to feel like a Formula One driver!), and the Virgin Giving account should be up and live by the time you read this. So please give, give, give – it’s for a good cause, to help to improve Moorside Park so we’ve got somewhere to train, to enjoy Caloo’s outdoor gym equipment and for all the many other groups and societies from our local area that use the park.

So, until we catch up next month, keep on training!”

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Lab tech on your wrist – the next gen fitness band from Microsoft

23rd October 2015

Lab tech on your wrist – the next gen fitness band from MicrosoftYes, we have written in the past about the phenomenon of the fitness band – wearable tech that points out when you’ve not moved around enough that day – irritating for some, a lifestyle changer for others. But today we’re coming back to the subject and looking at a fitness band that will take a step into new territory when it’s released at the end of October – the Microsoft Band 2.

While doing all the things that you’d imagine a good fitness band should do, such as telling you how far you’ve run/walked/dragged yourself that day, how many calories you’ve burnt off, your heart rate, steps you’ve taken and how well you’ve slept, the Microsoft Band 2 claims to go even further – much like many of its wearers in months to come I’m sure!

Its claim to fame is an ability to calculate something called your ‘VO2 max’. Simplifying the technical gobbledygook to a level that even I can understand, this is a measure of the amount of oxygen your body is processing per minute and is apparently widely considered the best measure of your cardiorespiratory fitness. Cardiorespiratory fitness, according to Wikipedia, “refers to the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to skeletal muscles during sustained physical activity”. In other words, it’s a measure of how fit you are.

Previously the only way of properly finding out this VO2 max measurement was in a lab, the kind that has you running on a treadmill with an oxygen mask on and loads of sensors. However, the Microsoft Band 2 formulates an approximation using your pulse and a sophisticated algorithm.

Other advances include a barometer to let you know how high up you are, a UV monitor to remind you when you’ve been out in the sun too long, and alerts to let you know that you’ve got a call or text message. Oh, and all of this is presented in a sleek and sophisticated wrist band that looks good as well as doing great things for your healthy lifestyle.

At Caloo, as experts in all manner of outdoor fitness gym equipment, we’re happy whenever something new comes out that encourages more people to recognise the importance of keeping fit and healthy. If you have a favourite piece of fitness tech, do let us know and maybe we’ll review it next month.

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Get paid to stay fit

23rd October 2015

Get paid to stay fitIt is now believed that illness costs the UK over £70 billion a year in lost working days and NHS costs, which is why the health service’s Chief Executive Simon Stevens believes that prevention is better than cure. To these ends he has proposed an initiative to financially incentivise businesses to encourage their staff to stay fit and healthy.

The theory goes something like this. If the government gives National Insurance payment rebates to businesses for setting up work-based health and fitness schemes, such as exercise classes, weight loss incentives, indoor and outdoor gyms, etc., then staff will become healthier and take less time off work. Productivity increases, the strain on the NHS is relieved, and the health and financial well-being of the nation is improved. All sounds good doesn’t it?

Of course, the proposal needs government approval, and then there is the challenge of getting usually busy or swivel-chair bound workforces to buy into the idea of lunchtime fitness. However, Mr Stevens believes that the current status quo will lead to serious issues in the NHS as obese children become exercise-shy adults who suffer from more illnesses and medical conditions and stretch the already seriously strained NHS to its breaking point.

We wrote an article in August about just such an idea, though from a business perspective, on how encouraging staff fitness makes financial sense as it would reduce absenteeism because of illness. It seems that the NHS are behind the idea, and I have to say that if enough can be done to persuade the great British public that movement is far better for them than a static existence, then only good things can come of it. We have a serious obesity problem in this country, and many ‘sleeping’ health dangers that result from too little exercise year after year. And as promoters of health and fitness in our work we think anything that incentivises people to move a little more is a good thing.

Caloo design outdoor gyms and amazing children’s playgrounds, and sell some of the finest fitness equipment, outdoor table tennis tables and multi-use games areas (MUGA) in the country. We are committed to the health of the nation and the fitness of the individual and, therefore, we applaud Mr Stevens for his bold plans. We look forward to seeing what the government has to say on the matter.

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Ping Pong pensioners prove that age is no barrier to success

23rd October 2015

Ping Pong pensioners prove that age is no barrier to successIf you’ve ever thought to yourself ‘I’m too old to do that’, take renewed confidence in your abilities and potential when you hear about the contestants at this month’s Eastleigh table tennis championships.

Hampshire’s second annual ping pong tournament for older people attracted more than a hundred contestants, each aged 65 or over, competing for the various titles on offer. The event was oversubscribed and they expect its popularity to grow year on year.

The tournament was divided into men’s and women’s tournaments for the over 65s and over 75s, with the oldest player being a soon-to-get-her-letter-from-the-queen 95 years of age. Titles were heroically fought over and winners announced.

They all agreed that it was a fantastic event, and that the game was enormously fun to play. Winners didn’t come from professional table tennis backgrounds or practise at table tennis clubs – they are grandparents who enjoy a game with their grandchildren in the garage, OAPs who use table tennis as therapy for a family loss, and have-a-go players who haven’t taken up a bat in a quarter of a century. These were ordinary people, enjoying an extraordinary game at, what was by all accounts, an amazing event.

Age should not be a barrier to having fun and keeping fit. In fact, keeping physically fit can help to keep you mentally agile for longer. Table tennis is one of those games that you can play at professionally to an international standard or have a fun knock-about with friends and family and it does not matter how bad you are. It’s a game for all ages and abilities – and I’m literally living proof of that!

At Caloo we just love the game and because of our passion for the sport we only sell the very best outdoor table tennis tables for schools, businesses, institutions and public open spaces. Ask us about installing one at your workplace or park, then all you and everyone you know will need to do is to invest in a bat and ball and you’re away. But don’t challenge your grandad to a match or you might find out just how good he still is!

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London Marathon Training Series, Month #2: Fundraising Fun Day and Other Preparations

30th September 2015

London Marathon Training Series, Month #2: Fundraising Fun Day and Other PreparationsWelcome to our inspiring story of one man’s fight against adversity, lethargy and home appliances to make it to the starting line (and hopefully beyond) for next year’s London Marathon. Jim Hicks has been ‘willingly’ entered into this test of endurance, and occasional meander into madness, by his loving wife Louise, and is being sponsored by Caloo – as these things are not cheap you know.

This month’s article in our marathon training series follows Jim’s training, his fundraising efforts to secure the remaining currency needed to pay for the experience and the peripheral paraphernalia it requires, and how you can get involved in Jim’s challenge.

So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Jim to let you know how things have been going since we last spoke to him.

“I’d just like to start by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has rallied behind me in this challenge of late. I simply could not imagine how I might make it to London next year if it wasn’t for you all.

Last month’s standout marathon-related experience was the Moorside Park Fundraising Funday that we held on Sunday (20th September). The goal was to raise the final £150 that we felt was needed for my entry and sundries, and we smashed that target by raising just over £300 in an amazing and exceptionally good fun ‘fun day’. There were games, lucky dips, raffles, a cake stall (hold me back someone!), massages, foot advice from a local chiropodist, a tag rugby match run by a chap from Firwood Waterloo’s 1st team, and local celebrity Dan Purvis, 2012 Olympic bronze medallist with Team GB’s gymnastics team, even popped in to see us. All this was, of course, organised and run by my Louise and the other fabulous locals on the Friends of Moorside Park committee.

So, I expect you’re wondering how my training’s been going. Weelll… Not quite as planned, but then I’m going with the story that I’m saving myself for the big finish! You see, despite my aspirations to go out running a few weeks after I managed to break my toe on the vacuum cleaner last month it has not healed as quickly as I would have liked. So I’m off to the foot expert again tomorrow with a view to her giving me more advice and fashioning an insole for my trainers to help me train while my toe continues to get better. Despite my slight limp, I’m aiming to join the others in my running club this evening for my first proper jog since the accident.

Every Tuesday we meet up at the Caloo equipment in the park to warm up together – while my toe was recovering, I’d send the other club members off on their run while I used the outdoor gym equipment to strengthen my weary limbs. Tonight I hope to join the short or medium group to run the two- to five-mile route I’ve set for them. The fitness equipment has been excellent for all of us; a focal point because of its location, and a sociable exercise area for all.

So, it’s coming together slowly – the funds are in and the T-shirt that Caloo have designed is on the way to the printers. I should be getting back to training tonight – and my detox starts in a week’s time, but more about that in next month’s exciting edition!

Oh, before I forget, a Virgin Money Just Giving link is being created so anyone who wishes to support me and the wonderful work that the Friends of Moorside Park committee do to look after our local green space and all its fitness equipment and structures for use by local kids, Thai Chi group, scouts club, and anyone else. No, seriously, I may be doing this as a personal challenge, with a little arm-twisting from the wife, but the end goal is to raise enough money for the maintenance of our local park so it can remain a friendly hub of social activity in our area for many years to come.”

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Baggaley, on his excitement for the 2016 Olympics, and the missed opportunities of the 2012 games

25th September 2015

Baggaley, on his excitement for the 2016 Olympics, and the missed opportunities of the 2012 gamesIn the aftermath of the London 2012 Olympics, the country was gripped by sporting fever. But for Olympic table tennis player Andrew Baggaley, the occasion was a missed opportunity for minority sports to capitalise on the public mood.

While popular sports such as football, cycling, athletics and cricket saw a sharp increase in participation after the games, minority sports like bowls, badminton and basketball have experienced a decline in numbers. And, although table tennis – the sport at which Baggaley represented the UK in 2012 – has risen in popularity at a recreational level, the athlete claims that a lack of major TV coverage is preventing the sport from attracting the talent and awareness that it needs to grow.

Despite his mixed feelings about the legacy of the 2012 Olympics, Baggaley has thrown himself into preparations for the next event in 2016. Having won the World Ping Pong Championship earlier in the year, he’s ready to embark on the 2015-16 season with a view to representing the country in Rio next August.

Baggaley recently returned from training in China and feels confident that he has what it takes to make it all the way to the Olympics – for the second time around. But with support for the sport still wavering at the higher ability levels, there is some concern about the future of competitive table tennis in the UK.

Fortunately, table tennis is an accessible sport with plenty to inspire the next generation – no expensive specialist equipment is needed, and anyone can pick up a bat and start playing.

That’s why Caloo sell only the very best outdoor table tennis tables for schools, public spaces, businesses and local councils looking for effective fitness solutions. Not only do these tables encourage children and adults to exercise and enjoy an active lifestyle, they’re also helping to convert the next generation of Andrew Baggaleys. So we can hope that by the time the 2020 Olympics roll around in Tokyo, Japan, there will be a whole new wave of talented British competitors ready to take on the world.

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How to protect yourself from the sniffles this winter

18th September 2015

How to protect yourself from the sniffles this winterWith summer behind us and winter fast approaching, it’s that time of year when we start to fear being struck down with a dreaded cold. Of course, nobody wants to spend the winter months trapped at home with a nose like Rudolph – so, what steps can you take to help fight off the sniffles this season?

We all know the classic tips such as eating healthily and keeping your body well stocked with vitamins, but did you know that your sleep pattern can also affect your susceptibility to the common cold? According to a US study, published in the journal Sleep, people who sleep six hours a night or less are more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep for longer.

The study monitored 164 healthy volunteers for a week, tracking their sleeping habits via a wrist sensor. Then, they were each given nasal drops containing rhinovirus – the virus responsible for the common cold – and were quarantined in a hotel for 5 days. During this time, the subjects were closely observed to see how many would catch a cold.

The results showed that those who logged a short amount of sleep every night were more likely to come down with the virus than those who enjoyed seven hours or more. In fact, the amount of sleep they had was found to be the most influential factor on subjects’ likelihood of catching a cold – more so than stress, race, education, income or smoking status.

This is great news for people who sleep easily and welcome an excuse for an extra hour or so in bed – but what about those of us who struggle to get more than six hours a night? Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to encourage a good night’s sleep – and help fight off colds in the process.

Exercise and an active lifestyle are, of course, still important factors in your ability to rest well at the end of the day. Unfortunately, many of us live relatively static lifestyles where we sit around at desks for hours on end at work and then come home to flop onto the sofa for an evening’s viewing. To help counteract this, and encourage people to improve their fitness levels, many businesses and public spaces have been looking to Caloo for a solution. With our wide range of outdoor gym equipment, we’re experts in getting everyday people motivated to exercise and stay fit and healthy. And now it seems like we can add another string to our bow – helping you to fight off the common cold!

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