Playing poker is not exactly an Olympic sport in terms of physical athleticism - unless you can count unprecedented bladder control as an athletic feat. Still, physical fitness is an incredibly important part of playing winning poker. Don’t get us wrong, you don’t need to be able to bench press a Buick or haul a fire truck using nothing but a harness and your own steam, but getting and staying fit will help you play a better game.
Physical fitness reduces fatigue.
Ever felt a little groggy at the tables? Combat exhaustion with a good ol’ fashion sweat session! Countless studies have shown that regular exercise helps increase energy and reduce fatigue. One study in particular conducted by the University of Georgia reveals particularly encouraging results since it takes dozens of other studies into consideration. Researchers scrutinized 70 studies that addressed exercise and fatigue. These studies involved over 6,800 people and more than 90% of them revealed that when subjects exercised, they felt less tired. Simple as that!
Physical fitness boosts your brain power.
In an article published in Newsweek, writer Mary Carmichael expounds the benefits of exercise on mental alertness, citing the results of a study that showed that regular exercise can be linked to the creation of new neurons as well as more varied, compact interconnections between these neurons. The result? A happier, healthier, more productive brain – and this certainly never goes amiss when trying to out-think your competition.
Physical fitness decreases stress.
Ever had a bad day and been told to ‘walk it off’? Well, the benefits of a little exercise can go a long way to reduce and prevent stress. Innumerable studies have conclusively shown that regular exercise helps regulate your cortisol levels. Cortisol has its place in healthy hormone balance, but too much cortisol – also known as the stress hormone – can wreak havoc on your ability to concentrate and make calm, rational decisions in a high pressure situation. Let’s face it, as poker players we experience our fair share of high pressure situations, so we may as well do what we can to help keep our cool (and our chips!).
Physical fitness balances mood.
Time and time again aerobic exercise (walking, running, cycling) has been shown to stimulate your body's production of serotonin, your 'happy' hormone (and also an important neurotransmitter). You can get similar results with power yoga or higher intensity weight training. You don’t have to go overboard here: you can see these mood balancing benefits with as little as 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week. In fact, over exercising can actually over-stress your system, causing your body to produce an influx of cortisol and lead to a very agitated, very unhappy you. The key is to find your balance. For some people, that may be 3 times a week, for others, it may mean exercise is crucial almost every day. It really depends on a myriad of factors including your current, innate hormone balance (i.e. are you a naturally calm person? Or do you tend to be anxious and/or excitable?) as well your lifestyle (i.e. do you have an active job/day-to-day life that would render too much more exercise unbeneficial? Or is your life in general so stressful that you could benefit from more regulated, enforced exercise?)
Physical fitness helps you sleep.
Seems a bit counter intuitive, but in addition to boosting your energy and decreasing fatigue, exercise can also help you sleep better. However, it is not oxymoronic at all. In fact, exercise can help you sleep better because of many of the factors we've already mentioned: it helps regulate your body’s chemical balance, making you a happier, more focused, less stressed version of yourself and thereby also helping you drift off to dreamland with no (or fewer) worries – and anyone who’s ever played an important game after a crap night’s sleep can tell you a tired player is NOT a winning player.