‘I’m a brain disorder specialist – here’s my favourite brain boosting sport’

Exercise plays an important part of maintaining general health. It can help with weight management, strengthen bones and muscles, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Physical activity is also good for the brain, with studies displaying its ability to improve memory, reduce anxiety or depression, and lower the risk of cognitive decline.

But one particular physical activity has been hailed as the “world’s best brain sport” by psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist Dr Daniel Amen.

Dr Amen posted a video of him playing ping pong on his TikTok channel with the caption “ping pong is one of the best brain boosting sports”.

Writing for The Daniel Plan, a book by Dr Amen, Mark Hyman and Rick Warren offering an approach to achieving a healthy lifestyle, Dr Amen said: “My favourite physical activity is table tennis, which also happens to be the world’s best brain sport.

“It is highly aerobic and gets both the upper and lower body moving in every which way — twisting, bending down low, reaching up high, and shuffling from side to side. Plus, it gives your brain one heckuva workout.”

He added: “Also known as ‘ping-pong’, the game is great for hand-eye coordination and reflexes (cerebellum and parietal lobes). You have to focus (prefrontal cortex) so you can track the ball through space (parietal lobes and occipital lobes), figure out spins (parietal lobes and occipital lobes), and plan shots and strategies (prefrontal cortex and cerebellum). Then you have to follow through and execute those tactics successfully (prefrontal cortex and cerebellum).

“All the while, you have to stay calm so you don’t get too nervous on game point (basal ganglia). And you can’t dwell on that point you blew a few minutes ago (anterior cingulated gyrus) or blow your top when you make a mistake (temporal lobes). It is like aerobic chess.”

One of the things Dr Amen loves best about table tennis is it involves few brain injuries.

There is growing evidence linking head injuries to the risk of dementia.

Dr Amen said: “In 1999, I played in the U.S. National Table Tennis Tournament with hundreds of other players, and there wasn’t a single brain injury.

“A fascinating brain imaging study from Japan found that table tennis helps balance your brain. The researchers examined a group of people before and after playing table tennis for a period of ten minutes.

“The ‘after’ images revealed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the thoughtful part of your brain, and the cerebellum.”

But if you’re not a fan of table tennis, Dr Amen recommended other great brain sports, such as dancing and tennis.

He said: “Dancing is very aerobic and is especially good for your brain if you are learning new steps rather than just grooving to the music. That’s why taking classes in ballroom, hip-hop, or jazz dancing where you have to memorise routines is ideal.

“Tennis, like table tennis, is a high-intensity activity that pumps up your brain power. The main difference is that traditional tennis is slower so your reflexes don’t get as much of a workout as they do with table tennis.”

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