Playing table tennis may ‘slow down Parkinson’s disease because it sharpens patients’ reflexes’

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Playing table tennis may ‘slow down Parkinson’s disease because it sharpens patients’ reflexes and stimulates their brain’

  • Five hours’ of playing time a week reduced tremors, limb rigidity and balance
  • Scientists say sport could be used as a cheap and relatively safe physical therapy
  • Parkinson’s blights lives of more than a million in US and 145,000 people in UK

Playing table tennis may slow the progress of Parkinson’s disease, research suggests. 

Five hours’ of playing time a week reduced tremors, limb rigidity, slowness of movement and balance for at least six months.

Parkinson’s patients have a shortage of dopamine – a neurochemical key to motor function and memory – which exercise encourages the brain to produce.

Table tennis sharpens reflexes, stimulates the brain and improves hand-eye coordination, according to scientists from Fukuoka University in Japan.

They say the sport could be used as a cheap and relatively safe physical therapy for Parkinson’s, the second most common neurological condition – behind Alzheimer’s.

Playing table tennis for five hours a week may slow the progress of Parkinson's disease, a study has found

Playing table tennis for five hours a week may slow the progress of Parkinson’s disease, a study has found 

People with Parkinson’s don’t have enough of the chemical dopamine because some of the nerve cells that make it have died. This leads to problems with movement. 

It blights the lives of more than a million sufferers in the US and 145,000 people in the UK.

In 2016 Muhammad Ali died after a long battle with the disease and famous sufferers include Michael J Fox and Billy Connolly.  

The latest study involved 12 people with an average age of 73 with mild to moderate Parkinson’s who had been living with the disease for an average of seven years. 

Participants were tested at the start of the study to see which symptoms they had and how severe the symptoms were. 

They then played table tennis once a week for six months, with each session lasting five hours.

Parkinson's blights the lives of more than a million sufferers in the US and 145,000 people in the UK. In 2016 Muhammad Ali died after a long battle with the disease

Parkinson’s blights the lives of more than a million sufferers in the US and 145,000 people in the UK. In 2016 Muhammad Ali died after a long battle with the disease

WHAT IS PARKINSON’S? THE INCURABLE DISEASE THAT KILLED BOXER MUHAMMAD ALI 

Parkinson’s disease affects more than one in 500 people, and around 145,000 people in the UK live with the condition.

Figures also suggest one million Americans also suffer.

It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.

It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.

Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.

There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.  

The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016. 

Famous sufferers include Michael J Fox and Billy Connolly. 

Patients performed stretching exercises then were coached by an experienced player from the department of sports science at the university. 

Parkinson’s symptoms were evaluated again after three months and at the end of the study.

The study found that at both three months and six months, participants experienced significant improvements in speech, handwriting, getting dressed, getting out of bed and walking. 

For example, it took participants two or more attempts on average to get out of bed at the beginning of the study compared to just one try by the end of it.

Volunteers also experienced significant improvements in facial expression, posture, rigidity, slowness of movement and hand tremors. 

For example, for neck muscle rigidity, researchers assessed symptoms and scored each participant on a scale of zero to four. 

The average score for all participants was three when they first started compared to an average score of two at the end of the study. 

Study author Dr Ken-ichi Onoue of Fukuoka University in Japan said: ‘Pingpong is a form of aerobic exercise that has been shown in the general population to improve hand-eye coordination, sharpen reflexes, and stimulate the brain.

‘We wanted to examine if people with Parkinson’s disease would see similar benefits that may in turn reduce some of their symptoms.

‘While this study is small, the results are encouraging because they show pingpong, a relatively inexpensive form of therapy, may improve some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

‘A much larger study is now being planned to confirm these findings.’  

The research will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 72nd Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada from April 25 to May 1. 

The main limitation of the study was that the participants were not compared to a control group of people with Parkinson’s disease who did not play pingpong.  Another was that a single specialist assessed the patients. 

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