From this Monday the club will be running three sessions every week for the Over 50s age group. The club hopes that the lively, highly social sessions can introduce the older and retired population of Cardiff to a sport that’s inexpensive, easy to play and highly social; and all that before we’ve even told you about the three comprehensive reasons why you should be playing!
1. You can play it into your eighties and beyond!
Table tennis is a sport for life, one that you never need to leave behind.
With the club’s weekday morning sessions for the Over 50s growing busier every week, it’s apparent that the sport is already experiencing a rise in popularity among older and retired people. The increased interest is not just limited to community sports though as even the international stars of table tennis get longer to work at the very highest level of their trade than many professional sports men and women could hope for. For older pros the ITTF Legends Tour is one of the most famous and lucrative events in world table tennis. On the tour players like Jan Ove Waldner and Jian Jialang still wow crowds around the world playing into their late fourties and fifties. Dorothy de Low is one player who can double that score though, as the Australian legend was still playing competitive international table tennis as late as 2012 at a staggering 102 years old!
A recent documentary film followed British pensioners preparing to compete in the World Veterans Championships and won critical acclaim for its coverage of the senior table tennis phenomenon. ‘Ping Pong: Never Too Old for Gold’ was accompanied by an outreach project promoting the sport in care homes and health centres around the UK, hoping to inspire Britain’s retired population with stories of home grown stars like Terry Donlon and Les D’Arcy still winning World Veterans Championship titles at the ages of 83 and 91 respectively.
2. Keep active and in good physical shape!
The official advice is that adults should get around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. The NHS claims that meeting this target can reduce a person’s lifetime risk of contracting major illnesses like heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancer by up to 50%. Despite being more susceptible to major illnesses, older people are generally the UK’s most sedentary age group with those over the age of 65 spending an average of ten hours a day either sitting or lying down. Inactivity is prone to set in further later in life with an Age Concern study reporting that care home residents spend only 3% of their time engaged in ‘productive activity.’
Regular sporting participation is one highly effective way of staving off inactivity as a person gets older, providing a source of fun and social opportunities whilst contributing to a healthy lifestyle. Maybe your seventies is a little late to take up American Football or Cage Fighting but fortunately we at Cardiff City know of a sport that’s low-impact and non-contact, easy to play and carrying an especially low risk of injury; it also just so happens to be the greatest sport in the world.
As an aerobic exercise table tennis is thought to burn between 300 and 600 calories per hour depending on how intense you choose to make your game. It’s not just about the cardio work though as Lisa Feldermann of Blink Fitness reminds us that table tennis is “a total body sport. The quads, calves and hip abductors are all hard at work letting players move side-to-side and front-to-back quickly. Other muscle groups that are used during play are forearms, obliques, abdominals, biceps, shoulders and triceps, as well as stabilizing muscles like the rhomboids and middle trapezius.” For those of us who don’t know our ‘rhomboids’ from our elbow, Lisa is saying that table tennis strengthens muscles in the legs and the core. Aside from the immediate benefit of keeping older bodies strong and healthy, this is exactly the kind of muscle building that can help maintain balance and flexibility into old age, significantly reducing a senior’s risk of falls and injury later in life.
3. It trains your brain and could even help fight dementia.
Recent developments in science and psychology have revealed that table tennis may also help a muscle even more mysterious than the ‘middle trapezius’. Affectionately nicknamed “aerobic chess”, table tennis is being increasingly recommended by health professionals as a way of boosting and sustaining the functioning of our brains. Research into the possible links between sport and dementia is growing, with several influential Alzheimer’s care projects already experimenting with ‘table tennis therapy.’
A 1997 Japanese study surveyed elderly players and non-players of table tennis and found that “players preserve far better mental ability even in the older age compared with non-players.” The study used these findings to conclude that “table tennis practice can prevent or delay senile dementia.” The study caused a sensation in the years that followed as scientists across the world raced to understand more about this topic through larger research projects and developments in brain scanning.
“The clear increase in motor skills and cognitive awareness from playing table tennis is significant, if not remarkable, in its unique benefit for brain disease patients” reported ‘Alzheimer’s Weekly’ in 2011, prompting Dr. Wendy Suzuki of New York University to investigate exactly how this could be. Dr. Suzuki concluded that table tennis exercised and strengthened connections in three important parts of the brain; the primary motor cortex which is required for the fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination that allows a player to return a ball at speed, the hippocampus which allows for the retention of information and, finally, the prefrontal cortex which is used in strategic planning as a player anticipates their opponent’s next shot. Regularly activating the connections in these key areas eventually changes and hard-wires the brain, via a process known as neuroplasticity, to have a greater long term capacity for memory, reactive behaviour and strategy in general.
Dr. Suzuki’s findings thrusted the subject into the public eye with the impact of table tennis upon brain health being covered in the UK by Channel 4 News and in the US by Dr. Oz of the Oprah Winfrey Show, who famously christened table tennis as “the world’s best brain sport.”
Over 50s sessions are held at Cardiff City Table Tennis Club between 10 and 12 in the morning every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. The usual charge for these sessions is £3, but new players can now try the sport out for free, visiting us three times before they’ll be charged for a session.
Bats and balls will be supplied and there is no need for players to book ahead. The sessions allow players to rotate around the tables playing with a broad mix of abilities and socialising with the club’s lively pre-existing Over 50s community.