Tennis is the ideal sport for people with Parkinson’s disease because it requires fancy footwork, hand-eye coordination, sudden movements and cognitive thinking.
If you haven’t taken up tennis or if your racket has collected some dust over the years, it’s never too late to get into the game. Tennis is a lifetime sport, meaning it can be played at all ages and fitness levels.
Whether you’re playing doubles, singles or even just bouncing a ball off a wall for practice, tennis can have a life-changing impact on an individual’s physical and mental health – and this is especially true for people with Parkinson’s.
Tennis speeds up weight loss. Tennis is a great cardio workout, especially if you’re playing singles because you are constantly running, pivoting and moving your body.
And you don’t burn calories – you obliterate them. According to the American Dietetic Association, recreational players can burn an estimated 600 to 1,320 calories per two-hour singles sessions, while competitive players can burn between 768 and 1,728 calories.
Bonus tip: Just be sure to have plenty of fluids on hand and rehydrate regularly. Listen to your body if it’s telling you to rest. And don’t be afraid to switch to low-impact sports on days you aren’t feeling up for a cardio challenge.
Tennis improves strength, agility and flexibility. You often see people playing tennis well into their golden years because playing the game consistently over the decades kept their bodies flexible, agile and strong.
That strength mainly comes from rotating the torso. This repetitive, rotatory movement of the torso is helpful to people with Parkinson’s who struggle with rigidity. In fact, most racket sports offer that same torso rotation benefit, including badminton, racquetball, squash or table tennis. Just ask our friend Navin Kumar, who is a world champion table tennis player with Parkinson’s.
Bonus tip: You’ll definitely want to make like the tennis pros and stretch your whole body before and after each game.
Tennis exercises your brain. Playing tennis keeps you on your toes, forcing you to stay mentally alert and focused on the game. It improves your reaction times, which could potentially cut down on freezing episodes.
It’s also known to improve critical thinking and tactical thinking by making connections between the brain and multiple moving body parts. Think of tennis as one of few sports that will give your brain as intense of a workout as your body.
Bonus tip: Tennis also helps regulate serotonin, a brain chemical linked to our sleep cycle and emotional state, so next time you’re stressed or struggling with sleep, just hit the courts.
Tennis keeps you social. Tennis can be played as singles or doubles, which automatically makes it a social sport whether you’re playing against someone or teaming up in pairs.
It’s normal for people with Parkinson’s to get the couch potato blues or feel anti-social on days their symptoms act up. But chances are you’ll feel much better once you get out of the house and breathe in some fresh air. Just don’t take yourself too seriously. Tennis and other racket sports are meant to be fun. You don’t have to be highly skilled to have a good time.
Bonus tip: Whenever a tennis player thwacks the ball into the air, it’s often accompanied by a loud grunting noise. The main reason players grunt is to help establish rhythm of how they are hitting the ball, but it also helps them to hit the ball harder. UGH!
Trick Shot: How to improve Parkinson’s with just a tennis ball
We all know how canines feel about tennis balls, which is why we keep them around the house for our fur babies. But there is a compelling reason why you should keep at least one slobber-free tennis ball all to yourself.
Physiotherapists at Nottingham University Hospital use tennis balls in a series of exercises to help people with Parkinson’s reduce hand stiffening and tremors.
Try rolling a tennis ball between the palms of their hands to keep fingers supple. Then roll it along a table to stretch out their fingers and help increase manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
You can do a similar exercise by sitting in a chair and rolling a tennis ball under your bare foot. Not only does it feel amazing, it also requires foot-brain coordination to keep it from rolling away.