USA Table Tennis What's New 65-Day Countdown to ...

65-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | June 28, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 65, June 28 - Dr. Amen Questions

“Table tennis is the perfect brain exercise.”

Dr. AmenBack in 2006, I had the honor to meet Dr. Daniel Amen, the New York Times bestselling author of Making a Good Brain Great.  The popular psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist included a section in his book entitled “Table Tennis is the World’s Best Brain Sport.” 

He had written that although he had played the sport in his youth, it was wasn’t until he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army for three years that he started to become skilled in the sport.  (An interesting parallel with yesterday’s Countdown article on Dennis Davis!) 

Back in 2006, he wrote, “I think it is the best brain sport ever.  It is highly-aerobic, uses 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’s like aerobic chess.” (MAGBG, 2006, p. 125)

I contacted him this week to participate in the Countdown series to see if almost a decade later, he still feels the same way about table tennis. 

Back in 2006, you were alarmed as we discussed the use of speed glue in the sport.  Could you elaborate on that?

Organic solvents, found in glue, are toxic to brain function and cause overall decreased activity in the brain.  My concern was for the players’ brains.

After that you were very kind to send a PowerPoint on the subject for review at the ITTF level.  As I informed you at the time, we eliminated speed glue in 2007.  Seven years later, as of next week, the ITTF is adopting the use of non-flammable plastic balls.  So now let’s focus on the actual health benefits of the sport, especially the mental benefits.

I love table tennis because you have to get your hands, feet and eyes to work together while you think about the spin on the ball.  It helps work the brain’s cerebellum, which helps with physical coordination, but also thought coordination, focus and impulse control. It is the perfect brain exercise, especially because there are very few brain injuries with it, opposed to [American] football, soccer and [ice] hockey.  I did a study on professional football players and their brains were a disaster, which is very unlike table tennis players. J

As the Countdown is focusing on juniors right now, can you address whether juniors, whose brains are still in their developmental stage, actually develop special lifelong benefits from participating in the sport beginning at a young age?

Your brain is not finished developing until you are 25-28.  Caring for it early is critical to overall development.  Playing table tennis, eating right, and avoiding things that hurt brain development (such as alcohol, drugs, being overweight and not sleeping) can make a lifelong difference.

New York City has recently adopted table tennis as a varsity high school sport.  What are your thoughts about that? 

I love this!! So smart and forward thinking.

Is there some way that we could actually gauge the benefits of table tennis on the brain that we could use to convince other cities and states to embrace putting the sport into their school systems?

We could do a brain imaging study and cognitive effect study to show the benefits, and compare table tennis players to football, soccer and hockey players. My educated hypothesis thinks we will win!

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts about our sport! 

Download Powerpoint Presentation
Dr. Daniel Amen: Glue is Toxic to the Brain