Table tennis is an activity that many elders participate in, regardless of physical ability. Aside from being enjoyable, playing table tennis can also help elders avoid falling. As a physical exercise, table tennis helps reduce the risk of falls by:
- Stimulating one’s brain, promoting quick thinking, and improving hand-eye coordination.
- Increasing one’s agility and flexibility, reaction time, and balance.
- Improving leg, arm and core strength.
Additionally, table tennis is an activity with a low risk of injury, and it keeps one fit and flexible without putting severe stress on one’s ankles, knees and back.
Dementia and Table Tennis
Memory loss is a common early symptom of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals often go on to develop problems with thinking, reasoning and perception. They might also have difficulties with visual perception, concentration and orientation. All of this places individuals at great fall risk.
The good news is that having an active lifestyle, which blends regular physical and mental activity (such as playing table tennis) in combination with social engagement, can help lower the associated risks of dementia. As an aerobic exercise, table tennis:
- Increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the frontal lobe of the brain (which regulates decision making, problem solving and memory). If the hippocampus is stimulated and therefore bigger, and it is not left to waste away, it can support the brain and hold back the symptoms of Alzheimer’s longer.
- Sustains mental focus and develops visuospatial skills (eye-hand coordination). This results in better coordination, upper-body strength and improved balance (which ultimately builds self-confidence and reduces falls).
A recent study compared the benefits of walking versus table tennis. Two groups of persons over 60 years of age were evenly split into a walking group and a table tennis group. They carried out their activity for one hour twice a week. After 10 weeks, it was discovered that both activities improved cognitive performance. However, the table tennis group had more of an increase in cortical thickness (the part of the brain that deals with complex thinking), which shrinks with aging. Also, individuals playing table tennis had a healthier mood, probably due to the combination of regular exercise and socializing.
Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (healthcare professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dr-rein/6/759/592. If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Rein at email@example.com.