Like a lot of people, I grew up with a ping pong table in my basement. My brother and I fought a lot of intense battles on that old table. Then there were those ping pong tables at the Rec-Center where our Middle-School dances were held.
When a slow song came on, all the boys would flee upstairs to play ping pong, which gave us a refuge from our tween-age awkwardness around girls. I get nostalgic just thinking about it. However, after high school, ping pong fell off my radar, and I went about 25 years without playing.
Then, about a year ago, I picked up a paddle at a friend’s house, and quickly rekindled my love for the game. I’ve been playing every week since then, and it’s been a highlight of my middle age. Besides being a lot of fun, ping pong is also seriously good for your physical and mental health. Here are the top health benefits of ping pong:
1. Ping Pong Makes You Happy:
Buddha says, “There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.”
Too bad ping pong wasn’t around in Buddha’s time, because I think he would have loved it. You know; just sharing his wisdom while playing a friendly game of “pong” under the Bodhi tree. (He probably wouldn’t have kept score)
Anyway, you might not think of happiness itself as a health benefit, but it certainly is. Happiness lowers stress, strengthens your immune system, and is great for your heart. Science shows us that playing ping pong regularly can lower stress and make you happier. Try it a few times and you’ll see what I mean!
2. It’s Great Aerobic Exercise:
Maybe the idea of going to the gym doesn’t thrill you? Maybe running on a track is boring and makes your knees hurt. Did you know playing ping pong can be a great workout?
In fact, after a session of pong, I’m pretty sweaty and exhausted. That’s a good thing, because aerobic exercise has a myriad health benefits including: improved respiration, blood circulation, strength, energy, and my favorite (again): happiness. Exercise also helps decrease anxiety, and lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Tip: Don’t even think about wearing jeans to play serious ping pong, because you’re going to sweat. Instead, be sure to wear workout clothes and bring a big bottle of water if you’re going to pong-it-up!
3. It’s a Social Outlet:
The funny thing I’ve noticed about ping pong is that it brings people together.
Unless you play alone in your basement with a robot, ping pong is a social sport. Of course, you can have fun playing with friends and family, but it’s easy to meet new people while playing ping pong.
At my local table tennis club the ages range from 30 to 70+, and a couple of the people don’t even speak fluent English. Yet, we all enjoy playing ping pong together.
Not only are there local clubs you can join, but bars and “ping pong social clubs” like SPiN are surging in popularity around the country. There are even “ping pong dating” events for singles.
In my case, I rallied a group of guys to play ping pong every Sunday at my house. Actually, I didn’t have to twist anyone’s arm to play, as it’s just a lot of fun. You should know that enthusiasm for ping pong is highly contagious!
4. Ping Pong Improves Reflexes:
A fast game of ping pong requires some cat-like reflexes. Consider that a ping pong ball can travel at over 60 mph on a court that’s only 9 feet long, and you can imagine why.
Ping pong helps to improve both fine and gross motor skills, so as you play more, you might notice your reflexes improving. This faster reaction time is a transferable skill that can help you in other sports, avoiding injury, and every-day life.
I love it when something rolls of the table and I can snag it out of the air; especially when my wife or kids are there as witnesses.
5. It’s an Amazing Brain Workout:
“In ping pong, we have enhanced motor functions, enhanced strategy functions and enhanced long-term memory functions.”Dr. Wendy Suzuki, professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University
Ping pong keeps you on your toes; literally.
A single rally can involve a dozen or more split-second decisions, so imagine the mental gymnastics you put your brain through in a whole match!
Playing ping pong uses several different areas of the brain simultaneously as your mind strategizes, anticipates, tracks, calculates, and reacts. This leads to improved concentration and mental acuity.
“We see a trend of both creative people and those from science really fall in love with the sport. There is something about fast-action problem solving with spin, speed and placement that seems to excite these crowds. It is non-impact and a great cardio workout with low joint and bone stress. Many players have a tough time stopping once they pick up the paddle.”Sean O’Neill, former Olympian in table tennis
6. Burns Calories: (How Many?)
If you are serious about playing ping pong, you move around a lot, and very quickly. So, how many calories do you burn playing ping pong? That depends how big you are, and how much you’re moving.
Beginners and people under 150 lbs. burn about 300 calories an hour playing ping pong, while larger and more advanced players can burn well over 500 calories an hour! That’s comparable to some pretty intense exercises like hiking and moderate rowing!
You might underestimate the calorie-burning power of pong until you find yourself drenched in sweat after a few matches!
7. Table Tennis Improves Hand-Eye Coordination:
The game of ping pong requires a lot of fast communication between your hands and eyes in a coordinated effort. This high-speed neural colloquy engages and enhances your brain’s primary motor cortex and cerebellum, which control hand and arm movement.
That’s why ping pong is a great mental and physical exercise for people of all ages, including the great Wayne Gretzky, who often played table tennis before hockey games.
If you’re involved in other sports (or just aspire to catch flies with chopsticks) consider playing ping pong regularly to improve your hand eye coordination.
8. Encourages Strategic Thinking:
Ping pong has been called, “chess on steroids,” by New York Times puzzle-master, Will Shortz.
If you want to be really good at ping pong, you should recognize your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, and then develop a unique strategy for your play. When you do, you stimulate the prefrontal cortex. This is the same part of the brain that is used in both crossword puzzles and chess.
All of that strategic thinking is one reason that you could call ping pong “the ultimate mind and body sport.”
It’s probably also why ping pong tables are often a fixture at tech startups and Silicon Valley companies like Pixar, Twitter, and Google.
9. Ping Pong Promotes Brain Health:
“The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on top of your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.”– Michio Kaku
Your brain is a truly awesome machine, and it advises you to play ping pong regularly.
That’s because all that mental exercise involved in playing ping pong increases blood flow to your brain, resulting in benefits like: sharpened focus, increased awareness, and better concentration.
Ping pong also stimulates the hippocampus, (not to be confused with “rhino college”) which is the part of your brain that makes memories, and allows us to retain facts and information long-term.
Alzheimer’s Weekly agrees, and reports that ping pong improves cognitive awareness and motor skills, which may help prevent Alzheimers and dementia.
Also, a good table tennis match is great for clearing your head after a long day. (Did I already mention that ping pong makes you happy?)
10. Ping Pong Encourages Mindfulness
I used to have a boss who was really uptight. He was the most organized person I ever met, and bordered on being “anal retentive.” The funny thing is that one day I learned he liked to sky-dive in his off time.
Why? Probably because the adrenaline cleared his over-crowded brain and forced him to be present. In his case it took something extreme and dangerous to silence the noise in his head, but most of us don’t need to do something so drastic.
For some people it might be downhill skiing, sailing, or gardening, but for me, (and seemingly millions of others) it’s ping pong. That’s because when your brain is working to strategize, plus track shots and and focus on the spin and bounce of the ball, there’s no room for other thoughts.
Playing ping pong is great for clearing your mind, making you present in the moment.
Some people spend a lot of time and money chasing mindfulness, but with ping pong, it’s just part of the game.
11. Ping Pong Improves Balance:
When you have balls whizzing towards you unpredictably at a high speed, you better be ready to change direction quickly. To do so, you need good balance.
Also, much of your time playing ping pong is spent in a “ready position,” preparing to lunge, lean, or run in one direction or another. This frequent state of readiness is great for improving your balance!
Also, I’m working on a serve that starts out in the “Crane” position, like Daniel Son from the Karate Kid, which requires good balance to execute properly.
12. It’s Safe, Low-Impact Exercise:
I enjoyed playing basketball into my 40’s, but then things changed. All of that sprinting and jumping started taking a toll on my joints and back. The day after a pickup basketball game involved a lot of aching muscles and Advil. Now, I prefer to play ping pong for a much lower impact workout, without the pain and risk of injury.
In fact, some of the best players at my local table tennis club are over age 60. You can’t say that about many sports!
While you certainly might be exhausted after a few table tennis matches, the odds are very low that you’ll end up in the E.R., or walking with a limp the next day. This makes ping pong a great exercise option for people who make have had back or knee surgery in the past.
Most Obvious Benefit? Ping Pong Is Really Fun!
In researching the scientific benefits of ping pong, there was one benefit that I didn’t see emphasizes enough: it’s really fun!
Having good, clean fun is probably the biggest benefit of ping pong. When you do something that you enjoy with enthusiasm, good things happen. Your mood improves, your stress level drops, your blood gets flowing, and you’re more present.
So, go find a friend with a ping pong table and ask them to play. You might even notice that ping pong tables are popping up around cities and bringing people together.
Get out there and play. I can’t think of any other activity that has so many benefits for both mind and body!