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The Best Brain Sport!

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My favorite exercise is table tennis. Some people laugh when I say this at lectures, but I am very serious. "Ping-Pong," they scoff, "is only a basement recreational game." You certainly haven't met my mother (the mother with the perfect brain). I remember when I was a young child and would sit in the backyard, amazed that she would beat all comers to the table. She was intense and had wonderful reflexes. I remember watching her trying to keep up with the little white ball. I played a lot as a child with my siblings, but I didn't really become skilled until I spent three years in Germany as a young soldier in the U.S. Army. The military, as highlighted in the movie Forrest Gump, has tennis tables in almost all recreation centers. With my childhood background, I was better than most players and won several tournaments. I then developed a friendship with a soldier from the West Indies, René, who was a championship-caliber player. We spent hour after hour playing at the USO in Frankfurt. One of my strategies in life is the try to be with people who are better than me at whatever I am doing. They help me be better, and losing to René was no big deal as long as I kept getting better. I was thrilled that at the end of my tour I was finally able beat him. We joined a German table tennis club and spent many hours interacting with our new friends around the table.

If you are an American, you still may think that calling table tennis a sport is silly, but I think it is the best brain sport ever. It is highly aerobic, usues both the upper and lower body, is great for eye-hand coordination and reflexes, and causes you to use many different areas of the brain at once as you are tracking the ball, planning shots and strategies, and figuring out spins. It is like aerobic chess. Plus, it causes very few head injuries. Table tennis – or Ping-Pong, the name given to the sport by the Parker Brothers game company to sell more equipment – is the second most popular organized sport in the world. Even more impressive, it is the youngest of the world's major sports. At the competitive level, players hit the ball in excess of ninety miles per hour across the table!

Table tennis is now recognized as an Olympic sport, making its debut in the 1988 Seoul games. You can find the sport televised throughout the world at any given time. From the Hong Kong Invitational to the World Table Tennis Championships to the Olympics, table tennis is completely sold out for all sessions.

In the United states there are many table tennis clubs and even more great players. The best way to start playing table tennis is to get a table and learn the basics of the game. I often recommend getting a USATT (United States of American Table Tennis) coach to ramp up skill quickly. The game is more fun if you can play well. You can learn more about table tennis rules, equipment, coaches and places to play at www.usatt.org.

Making a Good Brain Great, Daniel G. Amen, M.D., 2006, p. 125-126


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