Thursday, May 18, 2006

Table tennis for all ages and abilities

Pingpong offers more benefits per serving

Make sure your read why you shouldn't call it Ping Pong!

"Excitement is reason enough to bat a small, hollow ball back and forth for an hour. But if that doesn't tempt, consider this: Participants in pingpong glean tangible health benefits. They may even lengthen their lives.

Pingpong burns calories — 272 of them an hour for a 150-pound person, according to calorimetric analysis. This is not as many as singles tennis (544) or even doubles tennis (408), but a cool 102 more than would be burned by playing billiards for the same amount of time.

In fact, batting the ball about the table with friends on a regular basis may offer a nice mix of mental, physical and social benefits, says Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at the University of California, Los Angeles.

For starters, pingpong provides a deft mental workout ... truly. Such mental stimulation can affect how the brain is wired — perhaps even warding off cognitive decline in future years.
Exercise tends to help the front part of the brain, especially if one is solving complex problems, such as mapping out sophisticated strategies for winning a pitched game of pingpong.

Pick up the paddle and your brain could change quickly. In exercise studies, Small notes, beneficial brain changes are visible with high-tech imaging after only a few weeks.

And there's more. The balance training of paddle games such as tennis or pingpong can help prevent falls, which are common among the elderly.

It helps forge social connections — which increase the chance of living to a ripe old age.

“Unless you are playing pingpong against a wall, it is tremendous to have connection, have fun, and be socially involved with other people,” Small said.

Of course, what you get out of pingpong depends on what you put into it, says Dr. Frank Chen of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation's sports department, who's also on the medical staff of the Oakland Raiders and USA National Rugby.

If you're just banging the ball around in the basement with some buddies, don't expect to drop pounds or gain stamina.

But if you are playing really competitive table tennis, that's different. Concentrated, quick, high-octane play at that level can offer a cardiovascular and aerobic workout, and build strength in the body's fast-twitch muscle fibers.

“You are really working both types of muscle fibers (fast and slow) within the body,” says Chen, an avid pingpong player.

“Pingpong also works very well in terms of building eye-hand coordination,” Chen adds. “It helps build your reflexes because you do need to stay focused at that very high level. You are using your arms, legs and shoulders, basically enhancing speed and strength in all those areas.”

All this, and perhaps, no tennis elbow."

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