Four days a week a dedicated group of patients, caregivers and friends gathers at Cleveland Clinic Brunswick Family Health Center for some healthy competition --- they play table tennis!
The ping-pong game is increasingly being billed as a “brain sport” featuring a mix of aerobics, strategy, quickness and coordination.
“Table tennis is a fast-paced competitive sport. It’s a great way to burn calories and get fit,” says Dhia Aldoori, MD, a Cleveland Clinic internal medicine physician who brought table tennis to the Brunswick Family Health Center five years ago. “New players might work up a sweat, but perspire less as they become more conditioned.”
The sport also works parts of the brain that are responsible for movement, fine motor skills and strategy.
“I’ve seen table tennis improve the health and cognitive abilities of those who start out as beginners. I can tell how much their reflexes and hand-eye coordination have improved.”
“I’ve seen table tennis improve the health and cognitive abilities of those who start out as beginners,” says Kerry Burke, 62, of Bath, who plays at the Brunswick Family Health Center three times a week. “I can tell how much their reflexes and hand-eye coordination have improved.”
The table tennis club is the result of Dr. Aldoori’s search for something to offer to fellow employees that was competitive, healthy and practical. He bought a ping-pong table in 2011 and set it up in the building’s community room. “I started inviting patients, even if they had never played before,” he says.
As an added benefit, Dr. Aldoori regularly sprinkles in a dose of health education, preceding play with a brief talk on exercise, nutrition, cholesterol or other topics. He invites non-playing patients to listen in, too.
The club now has sessions on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and Saturdays and Sundays, with up to 20 people of all levels, ages and backgrounds. The club is funded by the players, who have purchased additional tables and equipment.
Mary Mullins, a patient service representative at the Brunswick Family Health Center, helps to coordinate the club’s activities. Like others, she has experienced the health benefits of table tennis, as the exercise keeps her active and helps with her long-time rheumatoid arthritis.
“The movement is good. It’s been very helpful,” says Mullins, who estimates moving up to 14,000 steps per session. “It’s also wonderful that Dr. Aldoori takes the time to talk to players about their health concerns.”
While the sessions are fun and educational, competition and improved performance are also important to players. Dr. Aldoori and Kerry Burke qualified to participate in the 2015 National Senior Olympics after winning first place in the Ohio State competition for Ohio Men’s Doubles (ages 60-64). Other local, national and international champions are regulars in Brunswick.
“Table tennis is the best year-round sport in Ohio, and it can be a good complement to a broader fitness regimen,” says Dr. Aldoori. “It’s inexpensive. It’s safe. And you can play regardless of the weather.”
Dr. Aldoori hopes others begin to recognize the sport’s benefits. “It’s a healthy atmosphere. We have so much fun.”