If you’re looking for a fun, new way to boost brain health—beyond crossword puzzles, Sudoku and the like—you may want to give Ping-Pong (aka table tennis) a try.
Actually, almost any activity that’s new to you is good for your brain. One characteristic most of us over age 35 share is that we tend to be happiest enjoying what we have always enjoyed. This includes the same music, books, TV shows, sports and hobbies. What we already know is comfortable to our brains because the long-used pathways of thought become automatic. Our typical pleasures are literally no-brainers.
When we branch out and try something new, our brains engage in novel problem-solving and focused attention in order to open up to the new experience and ultimately master it. As we move out of a well-traveled thought pathway, new connections between brain cells are formed. These new neural circuits are believed to improve attention and memory.
As a neuropsychologist, when my patients ask, “Would [fill in new activity here] be good for my brain health?” My answer is almost always, “Yes! If it’s new, give it a try.”
Ping-Pong is a particularly good choice for building brain health because it offers a unique combination of qualities that may be hard to find in any other activity. If played energetically, it can be aerobic and it always requires quick hand-eye coordination and strategic thinking.
Any aerobic activity will get blood pumping throughout the body and to the brain—releasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that stimulates new cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory, as well as neurotransmitters to boost mood. But Ping-Pong adds quick thinking and motor skills to the mix, which also benefit the brain. A lot is going on in Ping-Pong and a large part of your brain is activated while you play.
End result: Better memory, focus, coordination and mood.
There hasn’t been a lot of research on Ping-Pong and brain health, but a Japanese study published in International Journal of Table Tennis Sciences suggests that it can prevent or delay the onset of dementia.
Ping-Pong is fairly easy to learn and has a relatively low risk for injury. Whether you’re thinking of setting up a table in your basement or going to one of the new Ping-Pong hangouts or clubs that are popping up in some cities around the country (or maybe even in the lobby of your office building), enjoy this new brain-boosting pursuit!