Ping Pong

PBS Premiere: Sept. 9, 2013Check the broadcast schedule »

In Context1

The positive impact of physical activity on mental health and well-being is widely recognized. A large body of research indicates that physical activity can help manage weight, prevent chronic illness, reduce anxiety and lower the risk for depression. Studies show that even a 30- to 45-minute walk five times a week can boost the body's immune system. Physical activity has also been shown to change the body's immune system in ways that may help to protect against some forms of cancer. Harvard Women's Health Watch reports that exercising regularly may cause a woman's chances of getting breast cancer to fall 20 to 30 percent, in part because exercise may lower estrogen levels.

In older populations, physical activity has been shown to prevent falls by improving strength, flexibility and balance. A 2012 study published in the journal Neurology also found a link between a higher level of total daily physical activity and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. The study worked with 716 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, an ongoing longitudinal study on aging which began in 1997. As reported in TIME magazine, a series of brain-function studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2010 support this finding. Scientists found that those who exercised at least three times a week were half as likely to have developed dementia, compared with the people who reported no physical activity.

There is also a growing body of research demonstrating the beneficial cognitive side effects of specific sports and activities, including ping pong and table tennis. These games require hand-eye coordination, rapid eye movements and quick calculations. Alzheimer's Weekly reports a clear increase in motor skills and cognitive awareness from playing table tennis after a series of preliminary clinical studies in Japan found that table tennis markedly increases the flow of blood to the brain, and could possibly even prevent dementia. The same studies noted improved sleeping patterns, better coordination and upper body strength and improved balance among players. In addition, table tennis was found to provide opportunities for patients to socialize, as well as a means for alleviating feelings of isolation and depression.

In 2010, the first (and only) table tennis therapy program in the United States was started through the Sport and Art Educational Foundation. The program is designed for seniors with early stage Alzheimer's and various forms of dementia.

Television personality Mehmet Oz helped popularize the benefits of table tennis when he devoted a segment of his show to ping pong in 2010 and touted it as a "brain sport."

» American Academy of Neurology. "Exercise May Trump Mental Activity in Protecting Against Brain Shrinkage."
» Bachman, A.S, P.A. Boyle, L. Yu, R.C. Shah, R.S. Wilson and D.A. Bennett. "Total Daily Physical Activity and the Risk of AD and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults." Neurology, April 18, 2012.
» The Dr. Oz Show. "The Secret of Ping Pong."
» Jackson, Michael James. "Table Tennis and Alzheimer's?" USA Table Tennis Magazine, January/February 2012.
» Landro, Laura. "The Hidden Benefits of Exercise." The Wall Street Journal, January 5, 2010.
» "Let's Get Physical." London: Mental Health Foundation, 2013.
» "Seven for 2007 : Seven Things You Should Know About Breast Cancer Risk. There's no big way to reduce your risk for breast cancer, but a combination of approaches could make a difference." Harvard Women's Health Watch, January, 2007.
» Minou, Masoumeh, Carolyn Less, Diane Singleton, Ricky Wallace and Gareth Stratton. "The Effect of a 12-week Community Based Exercise Programme on the Prevention of Falls in People Aged 60+ in Liverpool." Liverpool: Liveability Programme, February 2012.
» Mori, Teruaki, Shin-ichi Satoh and Tomohiko Satoh. "Examination on the Effects of Table Tennis Play to the Brain Blood Flows." Presented at the Conference of the Japan Society of Clinical Sports-Medicine, October 26-27, 1996.
» Park, Alice. "The Hidden Benefits of Exercise." Exercise to Protect Aging Bodies - and Brains." TIME, January 26, 2010.
» Sport and Art Educational Foundation. "SAEF Table Tennis Therapy Program."