Table tennis is one of the sports that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. The game is played by millions of people across the world from disabled people and folks in retirement homes to school students or business professionals.
On top of the many health benefits it has on your body(losing weight, staying active, reducing cardiovascular risk, etc) it also has a lot of benefits for your brain.
It has been listed as one of the games with the highest rate of brain stimulation. It is the perfect sport for improving your mind’s condition because it has a low injury risk and it puts little stress on your muscles.
Table tennis works the upper body as well as the lower body, it is very aerobic, is great for hand-eye coordination, and it uses many different areas of the brain at once. This is because you have to track the ball’s movement, constantly plan your next move and analyze your opponent’s ones. It is often called chess on steroids.
Question is, what exactly happens when playing table tennis? Our current technology doesn’t allow us to scan the brain while playing but research shows there are a lot of benefits. Dr. Daniel Amen, for example, states that table tennis is one of the best activities you can do to give your brain a workout.
So what are some of these benefits?
1. Develops mental acuity
Mental acuity is the measure of the sharpness levels of the human brain. Alzheimer’s weekly reports that table tennis improves the brain sharpness significantly. After a series of studies done in Japan, they discovered that a normal game increased the blood flow to the brain and reduced the risk of getting dementia. Dementia is a chronic disease that is characterized by memory problems, changes in personality and poor reasoning.
The studies found that older ping pong players tend to improve the function of the frontal lobes of the brain, which regulate decision making, problem-solving, and voluntary movements.
Because you have to calculate the speed, spin and placement of the ball coming at you, usually in under a second, it acts like solving a puzzle and keeps your brain fully engaged.
2. Stimulates your brain
As stated before, playing table tennis stimulates different parts of the brain. The process of anticipating an opponent’s shot, makes the player use the prefrontal cortex of the brain similar to what is used during strategic planning. The aerobics involved during the playing of the game simulates the hippocampus area that enables an individual to create and maintain long-term memories.
The parietal lobes which are responsible for translating sensory information are stimulated through the process of following the ball and reacting to spin.
The more you use your brain the better it will perform. Especially when you get older. Similar to Sudoku and crosswords puzzles, table tennis helps with memory and concentration by stimulating the corresponding brain areas.
3. Develops motor control
The brain’s motor control is the part which human beings use to coordinate movements and activities with the different body parts.
Because of the high speed and unpredictability, you need a lot of mental and physical power to perform well in table tennis. It requires lightning-fast decision making, perfect micro-movements, and precise hand-eye coordination. All of these help with the development and improvement of the cerebellum and the primary motor cortex.
4. Improves your mood
The very first thing that you notice when playing table tennis is that your mood improves. This is because it triggers the increase of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that enable the transmission of signals and messages across the brain. Increased neurotransmitters levels have been reported to reduce the rate of depression. Various brain functions are regulated by neurotransmitters such as movement, feelings, memory and stress.
5. Boosts memory
The activities involved in table tennis are reported to increase the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor which is shortly known as BDNF. This component is a protein that promotes the healthy growth of neurons, therefore assisting in preventing diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
This BDNF not only assists in the creation of neurons but also helps them survive. In some parts of the brain, the cells you are born with are the same you will die with. However, in the hippocampus region, there is a significant increase of cells numbers throughout your lifetime. The best thing is that physical exercise stimulates this increase and survival of these cells making table tennis a fun way to improve your memory and wit.
7. Enhances balance
When playing table tennis the cerebellum area lights up in your brain. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling motor movements. Body balance starts from the brain and it is vital walking, running and other activities. This is crucial especially for the elderly.
8. Increases decision-making skills
Table tennis improves your decision-making skills and enables the player to be better strategists. You have to constantly adapt your plan to your opponent’s weaknesses and constantly think about the next move. Deciding what spin to apply and where to place the ball also contribute greatly to this.
The game has come a long way from the times when it was just a game that you played in your garage with your friends. It is now an Olympic sport and its popularity continues to grow. It has since been recognized for its benefits on the brain and is recommended by medical practitioners in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Neuroscience proves that this game isn’t only a fun activity but also a very beneficial one.
Dr. Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University, says the following about the benefits of table tennis: “In table tennis, we have enhanced motor functions, enhanced strategy functions, and enhanced long-term memory functions.”
The benefits of this underrated game can’t go unnoticed anymore and it is without a doubt the best game that can positively affect your physical and mental health while keeping you immensely entertained.