Author: Kevin James, Last Updated: 21/05/2019
Table Tennis, also known as Ping Pong, may not seem like the most serious of sporting pastimes when compared to the likes of football and basketball. But it is actually one of the most popular sports in the world in terms of the number of people who play the game regularly.
The fact that Table Tennis uses a pretty limited area might also make you think that it doesn’t offer the same health benefits of other sports like athletics, but this too would not be true. Some sports scientists have dubbed Table Tennis as ‘Aerobic Chess’ (source) because of the wide range of health benefits it offers to both body and mind.
So, what exactly are the health benefits of Table Tennis?
1. Full Body Exercise
As you move around the table at a quick pace to hit the balls travelling at up to 70 miles per hour, your heart rate quickens, pumping more blood around your body, and you breathe deeper, increasing your lung capacity.
Heart-quickening cardiovascular activity exercises the heart, keeping it strong and healthy. Breathing heavily increases lung capacity and improves the efficiency with which the body uses oxygen, not only in the moment, but also in the long-term.
Table Tennis also requires you to use the muscles of both your upper body and lower body as you run to reach the ball, and then swing your arm to hit it back. This is all powered by a strong core that gives balance and agility. Table Tennis provides an opportunity to tone and strengthen muscles. You won’t end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you can also say goodbye to Bingo wings.
This type of exercise also helps you lose weight by burning calories. How many calories you burn depends on how you play the game. Beginners can probably expect to burn between 200 and 350 calories per hour of gameplay, while professional players probably burn around 800 calories per match.
2. Builds Hand-Eye Coordination
Hand-eye coordination is something that needs to be developed when we are young, and then used regularly so that we don’t lose it in our later years. Table Tennis is a great way to exercise our hand-eye coordination as the ball moves towards us at great speed and we need to respond quickly to hit it.
More than just practice, this type of activity stimulates the part of the brain responsible for movement and fine motor skill. These are the motor cortex, located on the outer part of the brain, and the cerebellum, located behind the top part of the brain stem.Regularly engaging in an activity like Table Tennis leaves us with better hand-eye coordination and faster reflexes as we strengthen these parts of the brain through use and exercise.
3. Sharpens the Mind
Just like our muscles, and just like our heart and lungs, we need to exercise our brain to keep it healthy and functioning at optimal levels. Table Tennis stimulates a variety of different areas of the brain, and not just the ones needed for aerobic exercise and fine motor function.
Playing Table Tennis requires extended periods of intense concentration as we focus on the movement of the ball and the trajectory of the game. We use our spatial awareness not just to follow the ball, but to predict its location based on factors such as spin and speed. This calls on our brain memory, as we recall how balls in similar circumstances have behaved before. We also use our strategic skills as we develop strategies to trick our opponent into an error and gain a point. All of these things happen at lightning speed as each play of the ball lasts only a matter of seconds.As a whole, this activity stimulates a large part of the brain, giving you a ‘full brain workout’, and stimulating the connections between the different parts of the brain. Research has shown that for people who were previously living fairly sedentary lives, such as older people in retirement homes, this kind of brain exercise significantly increased their mental alertness.
4. Protects Against Brain Degeneration
Aerobic activity in general raises our level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that promotes neuron growth and survival. This growth helps fend off serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.Alzheimer’s seems to be particularly influenced by any aerobic activity, which also helps us to develop new brain cells by stimulating the hippocampus. This part of the brain is special not only because it is associated with memory, but because it is one of the few structures in the brain that keeps making new brain cells as we get older. A brain that is regularly stimulated to renew and multiply has more of the tools it needs to stave off the likes of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
5. Fosters Mental Health
As well as our body and brain health, Table Tennis can have a positive impact on our mental health.
First, the act of exercise has a physical impact on our mood. The aerobic workout increases our neurotransmitters, which usually decreases in people who experience depression. It also stimulates our brain to produce a number of hormones including dopamine, or the happiness hormone, serotonin, which regulates sleep and memory, and norepinephrine, which manages our stress responses. The presence of all these chemicals in our brain makes for a happier and healthier mental state.
But it is not just the simple fact of exercise that can stimulate these mood-boosting responses. Learning something new makes us feel better about ourselves. Setting small goals, such as mastering new racket skills, increases our sense of self-worth.
Finally, we also get a boost from interacting with other people through the social element of the game. And Table Tennis is more sociable than many sports, bringing people of different ages and abilities together.
Unlike most sports where age and physical build have a huge impact on the performance, in Table Tennis a 10-year-old child and a 65-year-old retiree can have a competitive game (assuming one of them is not a complete novice and the other is not a young or retired world champion of course).
According to Dr Daniel Amen, a leading American psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist as well as a New York Times best-selling author, Table Tennis is one of the best sports for the brain. It increases concentration and alertness, stimulates brain function, develops tactical thinking skills and hand-eye coordination, and it provides aerobic exercise as well as social and recreational interaction.
With so many good things in one fun package, why not pick up a paddle today.