It’s the most popular sport in the world after football. No longer just a game for kids, table tennis has become a real mania: easy to play, good for fitness, you can enjoy it almost everywhere and the coronavirus lockdown has only reinforced the trend with massive sales of equipment, including tables, bats and balls.
And guess what? It’s turning out to be the latest midlifers’ obsession. From Michelle Obama to Camilla Parker Bowles, it’s all about bouncing.
One of the first Hollywood stars to fall in love with this hobby was the actress, activist and feminist Susan Sarandon. Now, she is one of the most famous players in America and co-founder of a chain of cool ping-pong bars called SPiN across the USA and in Canada.
I think ping pong is the most fun way to stay in shape – she explains-. You really work up a sweat and it’s fun. It’s good for your mind as well as your body. It cuts across all body types and gender. You don’t get hurt; it is not expensive and it’s one of the few sports that you can play until you die.
A Victorian aristocratic parlour game, today it’s played in more than 200 countries worldwide by more than 300 million people. And with free tables now available in leafy parks, urban squares and outside train stations in London, Paris, New York and many other cities waiting for covid restrictions to be eased, it’s steadily gaining followers who in the meantime are training at home.
The benefits of playing table tennis for midlifers
We, midlifers, are not as fast, strong and nimble as we once were. But the great thing about table tennis (at the amateur level at least), is that power and athleticism are not essential to win matches. Ping Pong is a game of strategy: you need to outplay the other person to win the point.
Aside from being a fun way to spend an afternoon with your family or friends, table tennis also offers surprisingly great health benefits: mind-body stimulation, aerobic exercise, and social interaction. It helps you build strength, speed, coordination and agility without risking serious injury.
The great thing about choosing ping pong as a method of exercise is that you can have fun and burn calories as you play (thirty minutes a day can let you burn more calories than walking briskly for the same amount of time). But also, as you improve, you will burn even more calories in the same amount of time. Your rallies will get longer and games will get more intense as your skills sharpen, which will gradually result in more physical activity at a pace your body can keep up with.
Keeping your brain sharp
As well as improving reflexes, playing table tennis can stimulate mental alertness, concentration and tactical strategy. Alzheimer’s Weekly reports a clear increase in motor skills and cognitive awareness from playing table tennis. In particular, clinical studies in Japan found that table tennis markedly increases the flow of blood to the brain, and could even prevent dementia. In fact, aerobic exercise from the physical activity of the game stimulates the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for allowing us to form and retain long-term facts and events.
A magic stress reliever
Most of all, table tennis is the perfect stress relief. You pick up your table tennis bat, start hitting a few balls and for a couple of hours forget all about your worries. But it’s more than that. When you exercise, endorphins are released, which trigger a positive feeling in your body. By the time you finish your table tennis workout, you feel great and have a renewed vigour to tackle life’s problems. Thank you table tennis.
How To Set Up Ping Pong At Home
If you don’t have a full table at home, you can set it up on your kitchen table with paddles, a ball and a makeshift net. However, when playing table tennis indoors, the amount of room you have around your ping-pong table can influence whether you have fun or end up frustrated. Unless you have the luxury of designing your own ping-pong room, you’ll probably have to make the best of your existing game room or garage.
How to play table tennis
The first player or pair to reach 11 points wins the game. You score a point by making a shot your opponent fails to return. Or when your opponent’s return doesn’t hit your side of the table. If both reach 10 points, the winner is the first to gain a lead of two points. Whoever wins the most of an odd number of games is the overall match-winner.