Let’s Get Physical

The Cerebral Benefits of Getting Healthy

Poker’s biggest stars are finding a solid connection between physical and mental health, and they have the results to prove it.

Nowadays, it’s common knowledge that physical fitness is pretty essential to staying healthy. Whether you prefer a nightly jog or like to hit the gym at the crack of dawn, breaking a sweat on a regular basis can go a long way towards protecting you against numerous health problems including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and even general aches and pains. There are countless studies on the subject and they all pretty much point to the same conclusion: staying active is probably the most important thing you can do for your long-term health and well-being.

Ok, so we all know that exercising can help us physically. But what about the mental side of things? Sure, we’ve heard that working out can help relieve stress, but can doing a few sit-ups or burpees (everyone’s favorite form of physical torture) really help improve your cognitive function? Take a look around a high stakes poker room these days, and you’ll find your answer.

Once known as one of the least health-conscience communities on earth, with its members more likely to be found holding a burger than a barbell, the modern poker crowd is embracing the trend of increasing their heart rates away from the tables, and many serious players are hitting the gym in search of pumping up their profits.

Take It From The Top Pros Take It From The Top Pros
Daniel Negreanu Photo

"Poker has changed. In the past, high profile players were obese, now they’re fit. They’ve swapped their moobs for pecs. Players now are educated people, they’re smart, they do the research, they care about their health. It’s not like the old days."

Poker’s all-time biggest money earner Daniel Negreanu, Vice 2015
Jason Mercier Photo

"Not only am I better rested, but that helps me stay mentally focused at the poker table, and also helps me exercise more efficiently, which then in turn helps with sleep. It’s just kind of all connected, you eat better, you sleep better, you exercise better and you play better, and they’re all interconnected. Doing all of these things is part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle."

3-time World Series of Bracelet winner Jason Mercier, Card Player 2014
Bertrand Grospellier Photo

"I still want to keep most of my energy for poker, for sure. It’s important to be healthy but it’s also important to keep in mind your goal, and my goal is definitely to be in the best shape to play poker and to play my best poker game."

Poker and StarCraft legend Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, discussing the importance of sleep at the 2014 PCA
Vanessa Selbst Photo

"There's a danger in treating every poker trip like a vacation and veering too far from a healthy routine, but that's not good for me or my game."

Poker’s top female money earner Vanessa Selbst, PokerStars Blog 2013

This is what modern cerebral champs look like: they’re fit and energetic, and a far cry from what you’d find in a smoky back room just a few years ago.

In poker, a game that requires players to be extremely sharp and to regularly endure 12 hour tournament days, energy is pivotal to success. The top pros also put in countless hours away from the tables studying poker rules, which means that stamina is essential. Let’s take a look at a few ways that staying active can help increase your brain power, both on and off the felt.

Pump Up Your Brain Cells

Doing cardio can actually create new brain cells which help contribute to higher cerebral performance levels.

A challenging workout can boost your brain by increasing a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF.

BDNF can help you make smarter decisions against your opponents and learn and retain new information when studying poker strategy.

Sharpen Your Memory

Burning calories increases your hippocampus cells and helps keep your memory on point, which is critical to poker success.

Consistent physical activity is associated with protecting the prefrontal and temporal brain regions, which reduces the chance of cognitive decline.

Regular exercise stimulates chemicals that assist in growing new blood vessels in the brain and protect the existing brain cells.

Even Out Your Mood

A 30 minute walk can help stimulate your brain chemicals and settle down your mind so you can avoid going on tilt.

Those who suffer from anxiety or depression have shown to have more manageable symptoms when they regularly sweat out their stress.

Regular workouts can help prevent chronic stress from seeping into your life, which can actually make your brain smaller.

Exercise for Energy and Stamina

Get moving to combat afternoon fatigue. Working out can provide an all-day energy boost without the caffeine jitters.

Regular physical activity delivers all kinds of goodies like nutrients and oxygen to your body’s tissues, helping your body work more efficiently.

Hitting the gym can help aid sleep at night so your brain can repair and function optimally at the poker table.

When it comes to finding balance and harmony in our everyday lives and on the poker felt, there seems to be no getting around the idea that physical fitness is fundamental to success. And when we look at the physical regimes combined with the astronomical results of these poker legends, there’s no denying that in order to achieve optimal results we must start treating our bodies as extensions of our minds.