I went back and forth on whether or not to cover this one, but it kept bouncing back up.
In short, ping pong (or table tennis) is being promoted as a weight loss tactic.
What We Already Know
The Compendium of Physical Activities has table tennis listed as a 4.0 MET activity. "MET" stands for the metabolic equivalent of a task, and represents the amount of energy required for a particular test. 1 MET is the amount of energy required to sit quietly. Moderate intensity activities are 3 to 6 METs, thus require 3 to 6 times the energy of sitting quitely.
We know that getting more than 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week of a moderate intensity activity can promote weight loss, with greater benefits coming from 4-7 hours per week.1
So, at 4 METs, table tennis is a moderate intensity activity, thus could be used for weight loss. Now, that study has never been done, to my knowledge, but it could be possible for those getting 4 or more hours of table tennis per week.
What Is New?
I have traced the recent interest to a “hot off the press” study that examined the energy requirement in Japanese table tennis players.2
In short, this study looked at a handful of competitive, college-aged Japanese table tennis players during 5 practice rounds - 3 without foot work and 2 with footwork. Energy expenditure was assessed the last minute of each round, and converted to METs.
They found that the 3 practice rounds of just striking the ball with no later foot work resulted in 4.5, 5.0 and 5.2 METs. As suspected, adding in foot work increased the average energy expenditure to 9.5 and 11.5 METs, respectively.
Difference Across the Ages?
As we have already seen with sex, previous generations might not expend as much energy as the way younger generations on the same activity. The original study on table tennis, finding it was a 4 MET activity, was done 1978.
In 2017, the authors concluded that, “On average, table tennis practice accounted for 7.1 ± 3.2 METs. That value is significantly higher than the figure given in the current Compendium of Physical Activities: 4.0 METs.”2
Ping Pong and Weight Loss Conclusion
[Clarify] If you are looking for a moderate-to-vigorous activity for health and possible weight loss, ping pong could be a reasonable choice. Just make sure that:
(1) you use it alone or collectively with other activities to get at least 4 hours per week, and
- Donnelly, J. E., Blair, S. N., Jakicic, J. M., Manore, M. M., Rankin, J. W., & Smith, B. K. (2009). American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 41(2), 459-471.
- Sagayama, H., Hamaguchi, G., Toguchi, M., Ichikawa, M., Yamada, Y., Ebine, N., ... & Tanaka, H. (2017). Energy Requirement Assessment in Japanese Table Tennis Players Using the Doubly Labeled Water Method. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 1-21.