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Taking the Paddle to Parkinson's

Since its founding in 2011, the Westchester Table Tennis Center (WTTC) has been a venue for internationally competitive table tennis contested by some of the best athletes in the world, including many Olympians. It has also become a valued and treasured community resource hosting youth programs, charitable fundraisers and, most recently, a new therapeutic program for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Above Left: WTTC owner Will Shortz and performing artist Nenad Bach. Above Right: Nenad Bach in action

Since March of this year, the WTTC has been hosting a weekly Parkinson’s night, held every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. as part of their “Ping Pong Parkinson” campaign. The program is, in part, based on the premise that exercise, and especially ping pong, may be beneficial for Parkinson’s patients, “because it exercises so many parts of the body and brain while reinforcing timing, rhythm and balance” as stated by the National Parkinson’s Foundation.

The University of California at San Francisco’s (UCSF) Parkinson’s Disease Research Center has produced an Exercise and Physical Therapy Guide for Patients with Parkinson’s Disease1. According to the UCSF Center’s Guide, the most effective activities are those that “require large, rhythmical movements through a full range of motion.”1 Also cited in the Guide are “exercises that demand attention, repetition, progression of difficulty with spaced practice over time.” In general, exercises “challenging the individual to change tempo, activity or direction…”1 For those who have watched any of the competitions held at the WTTC or are otherwise familiar with the game, that sounds like a pretty accurate description of table tennis.

Above: Psychiatrist and WTTC member, Art Dubow, M.D., explaining the benefits of exercise and, in particular table tennis, for Parkinson's patients.

Frequently seen on P.B.S. television stations, psychiatrist and best selling author Daniel Amen, M.D., also supports the use of table tennis as a therapy for improving brain function. In his article "Stupidity and the Brain, Amen writes that, for improving brain function, "Golf is good. Tennis is terrific. Table tennis is the best sport in the world."

The WTTC’s Ping Pong Parkinson’s initiative is the result of a collaboration between two avid table tennis players Will Shortz, owner of the WTTC, crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times and puzzle master for National Public Radio, and Nenad Bach, a Croatian-American recording artist, composer, performer, producer, peace activist and a Parkinson’s patient.

When MetroSports Magazine visited on September 6th, the affable Will Shortz hosted a group of about 30 people including Nenad Bach and fellow WTTC members Fred Ellman, David Hill and Public Relations Director Irene Silbert. The evening’s program included a discussion of Parkinson’s disease led by WTTC member, Art Dubow, M.D., a retired psychiatrist, who explained the symptoms and progression of the disease. He also spoke about the growing body of research showing the benefits of exercise in preserving function. With refreshments available for all, it was time for some table tennis. Who knew therapy could be such fun?

Above: Nenad Bach entertains with song white Dr. Art Dubow, Fred Ellman and David Hill keep the beat with paddle and ball

Below: Participants enjoying the benefits of Ping Pong Therapy


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