HEALTH AND FITNESS
Inspiring armless table tennis player squares off against the world’s best
Meet Ibrahim Hamato, an inspirational table tennis player who can hold his own against some of the world’s best despite missing both his arms. Hamato visited the 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo and met the top-ranked players in the sport. According to the video, Hamato had an accident as a child, but it didn’t stop him from playing table tennis.
“Three years after my accident I wanted to play again holding the racket under my arm, but it didn’t work out. After trying different options I found myself playing with my mouth.”
Ping-Pong Improves Brain Function
It’s more than a fun game. It also helps with detection and treatment of autism, Asperger’s, Alzheimer’s, dyslexia, and more.
I have many a fond memory of spending summer afternoons and evenings with my dad and neighbors playing Ping-Pong on a regulation table set up in my driveway. Whether competitive tournaments that attracted everyone under the age of 12 on my block or relaxing volleys with my parents, it was always fun. But I never imagined that what seemed like a simple game could enhance mental health until I started a Ping-Pong Club at my high school a couple of years ago.
The unpredictability and high speed of play require mental and physical agility. Making speedy decisions, exercising fine-motor control, and developing highly efficient hand-eye coordination can help improve function in both the primary motor cortex and cerebellum.Like most clubs, the first few meetings attracted a crowd of curious teens, but as the year progressed, the club started to shrink in size. Eventually it was reduced to about 10 loyal participants. I was really surprised to notice that almost all of them were students with special needs.
I wondered why. A little research clarified that Ping-Pong (also known as table tennis) is considered a “brain sport.” It activates different parts of the brain simultaneously and stimulates overall awareness, while its fast pace helps sharpen alertness and decision making. Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University, cites the sport’s impressive and varied benefits: “In Ping-Pong, we have enhanced motor functions, enhanced strategy functions, and enhanced long-term memory functions.” The unpredictability and high speed of play require mental and physical agility. Making speedy decisions, exercising fine-motor control, and developing highly efficient hand-eye coordination can help improve function in both the primary motor cortex and cerebellum.
Rob Bernstein, an autism and Asperger’s specialist, has used table tennis in workshops with children with disabilities in order to improve their social and motor skills.Ping-Pong can also help diagnose ADHD, autism, and dyslexia. The eye tracking involved in games requiring hand-eye coordination has been shown to be effective for early detection of these disorders. Rob Bernstein, an autism and Asperger’s specialist, has used table tennis in workshops with children with disabilities in order to improve their social and motor skills. “Ping-Pong provides the perfect opportunity for me to help these kids deal with social interactions,” he says. “They have to be able to say ‘nice shot’ when an opponent gets a point, ask someone new to play—even just learn how to play by the rules.”
The students in my club played with enthusiasm and cooperation, even if upon joining the group they were having trouble connecting with others. It wound up being not just fun for them individually but a socially stimulating activity that helped them interact with each other.
Elderly Ping-Pong players tend to experience functional improvements in the frontal lobes of the brain, which regulate decision making, problem solving, and voluntary movements. Patients who went through a table tennis rehabilitation program also tended to be less dependent on wheelchairs.But the benefits don’t stop there. Patients with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease have also been helped by treatment programs using Ping-Pong. A 1997 clinical study in Japan discovered that people with brain diseases who played the game experienced a boost in brain function and awareness, as well as a decrease in dementia and depression. The study found that elderly Ping-Pong players tend to experience functional improvements in the frontal lobes of the brain, which regulate decision making, problem solving, and voluntary movements. Patients who went through a table tennis rehabilitation program also tended to be less dependent on wheelchairs.
These observed treatment effects have prompted places like the Gilbert Table Tennis Center in Los Angeles to implement table tennis therapy programs. Here, Alzheimer’s patients take hourlong “lessons” that involve simple volley exercises, and the results have been promising for improving memory.
Now when I pick up my paddle, I think of all the benefits this simple, fun game can give players—athletically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively. Who would have thought that sending a little white ball over a net could accomplish so much?
Copy by Violet Decker
Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon, puts on a good front.
“I have a paddle and I have a paddle case, which makes me look very professional,” she confessed to a crowd at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. “But, in fact, I suck.”
Sarandon admits that despite co-owning the table tennis franchise, SPiN, her game is not for show. But according to one New York professor, Sarandon could be doing more than just having a little fun with friends.
“In ping pong, we have enhanced motor functions, enhanced strategy functions and enhanced long-term memory functions,” explained Dr. Wendy Suzuki, professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University.
According to Suzuki, table tennis works parts of the brain that are responsible for movement, fine motor skills and strategy — areas that could be growing stronger with each match. While scientists have yet to study the brain activity of ping pong players, Suzuki believes the game enhances brain function unlike any other sport.
Table Tennis Is the No. 1 Brain Sport, Scientists Say
Researchers at The American Museum of Natural History invited Sarandon, Suzuki and a panel of table tennis enthusiasts to become part of their latest exhibition, “Brain: The Inside Story. ”
For one night under the iconic blue whale, high above the museum floor, visitors listened to the science behind one of America’s favorite basement pastimes. While the ping pong discussion was limited to one night, the brain exhibition continues through the summer.
“Table tennis is the number one brain sport, so we figured this was a great way to get people interested in the brain because a lot of people play table tennis,” explained Rob DeSalle, curator for the Museum.
Holding a human brain to get players’ attentions, Suzuki pointed out specific areas that are stimulated by playing table tennis.
According to Suzuki, there are three major areas affected by this high-speed game. The fine motor control and exquisite hand-eye coordination involved with dodging and diving for the ball engages and enhances the primary motor cortex and cerebellum, areas responsible for arm and hand movement.
Ping Pong, Like Chess, Involves Strategy
Secondly, by anticipating an opponent’s shot, a player uses the prefrontal cortex for strategic planning. Lastly, the 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.
“There’s a lot of strategy and the area that gets enhanced is the prefrontal cortex, critical not only in ping pong, but also in chess,” said Suzuki.
That could explain why fellow panelist, Will Shortz, calls ping pong, “chess on steroids.” Since 1993, Shortz has been the man responsible for deciding just how much strategy is needed to solve crossword puzzles for The New York Times.
A self-confessed table tennis addict and puzzle editor, Shortz says the key to both of his favorite activities is strategy.
“Crosswords and table tennis go great together, they’re both mind sports,” he said.
Last November, 11-year-old Alex Lipan focused all of his attention on that bouncing ball to become the top-ranked table tennis player, for ages 12 and under, in the state of New York.
Copy taken from ABC News