Why you should take up table tennis

Table tennis bats - How to get involved in table tennis

A sport with worldwide appeal, table tennis can be played by all ages and abilities, even after a heart event. Rachael Healy finds out how to get involved.

Ping pong, whiff-whaff or table tennis? Whatever you call it, it began as a Victorian aristocratic parlour game. It’s now played in more than 200 countries worldwide and in the UK, it’s steadily gaining followers. A 2015 Sport England survey showed participation has been rising since 2005.

The benefits of playing table tennis

As table-tennis tables spring up in outdoor locations, and leisure centres offer tables to rent, all you need is a bat, ball and someone to play with.

Table tennis offers moderate-intensity activity, which is good for your heart

Initiatives such as Lottery-funded Ping! – launched in London in 2010 – have brought table-tennis tables to public spaces. You can now find tables in leafy parks, in urban squares and outside train stations. In 2015, an estimated one million people played on these free tables.

The set-up and rules are similar to those of tennis, but the smaller scale and reduced movement make it more accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Just like tennis, you can play solo or in pairs.

Whether you’re a casual or competitive player, table tennis offers moderate-intensity activity, which is good for your heart, along with lots of other benefits. You’ll need good hand-eye coordination and you may find yours improving the more you play.

Your arms, core and shoulders get a workout as you swipe for and direct the ball. In a fast-paced game, you’ll work your legs and ankles as you dash between the corners.

How to play table tennis

  1. The first player or pair to reach 11 points wins the game.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Of course, you can always just play for fun. Try working as a team with your partner to keep the longest rally possible.

Table tennis after a heart attack

Paul Hooley, 74, playing table tennisPaul Hooley (pictured), 74, has played table tennis for many years. “Table tennis is a wonderful and generally inexpensive recreation that allows people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to partake in an enjoyable pastime, while at the same time helping to get, and keep, participants fit and healthy,” he says.

In 2015, he set up a new club in Dorset and in November, was crowned winner of his local league’s division two championship. Back in 2004, Paul had a heart attack. At the hospital in Milton Keynes, Paul and his doctors discovered a shared love of table tennis. In 2009, when Paul had fully recovered, he and two fellow players who had also suffered heart attacks challenged the same doctors to a patients versus physicians charity match.

“I have not had a problem since my recovery, which took a few months,” says Paul. “I am as fit and healthy now as I was before my incident, playing still to a very reasonable standard.”

Paul advises others who have had a heart event to be aware of their limits while playing, but believes the sport has many great benefits. “Table tennis raises the heart rate, helps strengthen muscles, mobilises the joints and, importantly, sharpens reaction times and hugely improves hand-eye coordination,” he says. “All of which help to improve one’s quality of life.”

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