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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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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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