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Published January 06, 2012, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Pingpong exercises your body and brain

About this time of year, I usually write a column about staying healthy and fit when it’s cold and snowy outdoors. This year my cross-country skis and snow shoes have been in storage because we have just had a sprinkling of snow in Fargo and the surrounding area.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

About this time of year, I usually write a column about staying healthy and fit when it’s cold and snowy outdoors. This year my cross-country skis and snow shoes have been in storage because we have just had a sprinkling of snow in Fargo and the surrounding area.

When it snows, I’m ready. Sometimes the weather becomes so cold that skiing, sledding or skating becomes a painful experience. We should consider some other forms of physical activity to keep our bodies and brains engaged.

A couple of winters ago, my husband and I joined a fitness club. The club has numerous fitness machines, treadmills and classes. It also has a recreation room with “exergames” on the TV screen, pool and table tennis (or “pingpong”). The room primarily is used by kids.

At first, when my husband and I weren’t feeling particularly energetic, we gravitated to the pingpong table. We were not very adept at batting the little ball back and forth on the fairly small table. We spent more time retrieving the ball from the floor than hitting it.

We improved our skills and game speed through the year. My husband learned how to put a spin on the ball so the ball would magically dance right out of my hitting range. So I learned how to make him run from side to side quickly by alternating where the ball landed on the table.

We invested in our own paddles and carried them in our gym bag. When we arrived, the workers teased us about who was going to win the big match.

We stopped playing to “win.” When your exercise buddy also is your spouse, I recommend noncompetitive games.

We made up our own rule that no matter where the ball lands, you have to play it. We hit the ball off the ceiling, floors and, sometimes, the nearby wall. We attracted an audience of little kids.

We played pingpong much better with fans watching us. The time passed quickly.

I noticed that we became more alert because of the eye-hand coordination the game requires. With the stretching, bending and constant movement, we felt energized, too.

According to fitness specialists, pingpong is a mental and physical workout.

Some experts think playing pingpong may slow down cognitive decline and improve our balance by “rewiring” our brains, so it might help our brains stay healthy as we get older.

When pingpong is played with a little spunk, you can burn as many calories as you would burn while walking at a moderate pace. For example, a 150-pound person could burn about 150 calories in 30 minutes of playing pingpong.

Whether you stay active in the winter by walking in a gym or mall, exercising with videos or exergames, cross-country skiing, playing pingpong or dancing, do something. Regular physical activity can help prevent weight gain and can prevent or delay the development of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. Exercise also has mood-enhancing effects.

We all can think of reasons not to exercise. Our exercise barriers might include time constraints, budget shortfalls, lack of places to exercise, lack of motivation or cold weather. Remember, for every excuse not to exercise, there is a solution.

In the coming months, take 30 minutes for yourself on five or more days per week and discover fitness activities that you enjoy.

Consider these tips to stay active this winter:

- Make physical activity a priority. Carve out time to be active and put it on your calendar.

- Check out what is available. Is there a community center or health club? If available, consider taking a class such as yoga or water aerobics.

- Be sure to start slowly to reduce your risk of injury or burnout. Choose moderate-intensity physical activities, such as walking, to get started. Check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.

- Meet a friend for workouts. If your buddy (or hubby) is on the next bike, treadmill or across the pingpong table, your workout is much less boring.

- Make it fun. Listen to music while you dance indoors. Or, check out an exercise DVD from a library or invest in exergame equipment at home.

- Be proud of yourself for setting fitness goals and working to meet them.

Don’t forget to pair fitness with good nutrition in the coming year. Broccoli is a nutrition star, so be sure to include it on your menus. This recipe has just five ingredients and is ready in about 20 minutes. Pair it with grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, crunchy apple slices and low-fat milk for a quick meal.


Quick Broccoli Soup

2 cups chopped fresh broccoli (or substitute frozen)

½ cup finely chopped onion

1 (14.5-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 (12-ounce) can fat-free evaporated milk

Salt, pepper (to taste)

Combine broccoli, onion and chicken broth in a saucepan. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Puree half of the mixture in a blender; return to the saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of milk until smooth. Gradually add the remaining milk. Stir into the broccoli mixture. Bring to a boil and stir for about 2 minutes or until thickened.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 120 calories, 0 grams (g) of fat, 8 g of protein, 20 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 370 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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