Northwestern Medicine serves up Parkinson’s Players Ping Pong in Lake Forest, Chicago

Patient with disease is helping others with movement disorder to bounce back with table tennis

Drills include dual tasks, such as walking or lateral steps while bouncing the ball. Partner drills include counting aloud how many times you hit the ball, which activates the voice and encourages socialization.

LAKE FOREST – Since first noticing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease 12 years ago, there is one prescription that Mike DeBartolo says came naturally to him – exercise.

The Wilmette resident keeps nimble in the warmer months playing golf and tennis but was searching for something active and sociable for the colder months. The perfect answer took him back to teenage years – pingpong.

DeBartolo bounced his idea off Linda Egan, the Parkinson’s disease program coordinator at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, who in turn served up an instructional table tennis exercise program. Parkinson’s Players Ping Pong, now offered at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Health & Fitness Center twice a week and once a week at Edgewater Fitness Center in Chicago, is taught by certified exercise physiologists with additional Parkinson’s specific training.

“Many of us grew up playing pingpong in our basements not even realizing we were exercising or improving brain function,” Egan said in a news release. “Research has shown table tennis is uniquely beneficial for those with Parkinson’s disease because of its focus on balance, hand-eye coordination, rhythmic movements and concentration.”

The program begins with warmups and drills to maximize the benefits of pingpong. Dynamic warmups help participants get familiar with the paddle. Drills include dual tasks such as walking or lateral steps while bouncing the ball. Partner drills include counting aloud how many times you hit the ball, which activates the voice and encourages socialization.

The real fun then starts with single and dual pingpong matches, which can become very competitive.

“Pingpong is great because of the social aspect. The participants are having fun while moving in a variety of ways that will benefit daily life,” said Logan Sinnett, certified exercise physiologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Health & Fitness Center. “Pingpong requires agility and axial mobility, which is the twisting motion of your torso, along with lateral stepping. In addition to physical skills, pingpong also involves a cognitive element as players must remember and announce the score during their serves.”

A study by the Fukuoka University School of Medicine in Fukuoka, Japan, found people with Parkinson’s who participated in a pingpong exercise program once a week for six months showed improvement in their Parkinson’s symptoms. Study participants experienced significant improvements in speech, handwriting, getting dressed, getting out of bed and walking.

“The evidence supporting the potential benefits in quality of life and motor scores from a regular pingpong program for people with Parkinson’s is not surprising given the coordination, planning and anticipation of movement involved in the sport,” said Neil Shetty, MD, movement disorders specialist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. “The built-in cues of pingpong play may be particularly helpful in facilitating motor training for people with Parkinson’s. In addition to these physical and cognitive elements, pingpong also provides a strong social element of stimulation that we know is very important for the brain.”

The pingpong program is an extension of Parkinson’s Players, an idea DeBartolo launched with Northwestern Medicine to host golf and tennis clinics.

“The two things central to Parkinson’s Players are play and friendship,” DeBartolo said. “One of the few known things to slow the progression of Parkinson’s is exercise. Play takes it to another level. There is an isolating nature to Parkinson’s disease. Playing together gives us an opportunity to smile, laugh and let our hair down while staying active.”

The program is for Level 1 and Level 2 Parkinson’s patients who can stand for an hour without support.

For information about the Lake Forest Hospital program, contact Linda Egan at For the Edgewater Fitness program, contact Katie Fagan at

To learn more about Northwestern Medicine, visit

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