Is Poker Damaging to Your Health? - Part 2
Whether it is in a Casino or at the comfort of your PC, Poker is essentially a desk job. Actually it's a lot worse, you don't get up to go to the photocopier playing poker and most offices don't allow smoking and booze on the job. When I was in good shape, it was less about what I ate, and more about the considerable amount of exercise I did. Nowadays I am sat for a good 40-50 hours a week with little more exercise than ruffling chips or clicking a mouse, I don't think it takes Madonna's personal trainer to work out where the extra weight has come from.
And I don't think I am the only one for who this is happening, I was at the Sheffield Winter Festival event earlier this month. In a very small card room, which had 11 to a table plus the dealer, I was surrounded by some of the fattest pros I have ever seen. There was no chance I could get up to go to the toilet for the first three blind levels and at one point, an absolute behemoth of a man got eliminated from the freezeout tournament, but was unable to leave the cardroom because of about three other portly gents who were sandwiching him into his seat, he actually ended up standing for another ten minutes waiting for someone else to bust so he could get enough space to attempt to leave.
Weight management is actually remarkably simple, it is only clever marketing, overpriced diet books and delusion from those who have weight issues that make it as complex as it is. A calorie is a unit of energy, your body gets calories from food, if you use more calories than you consume you lose weight, if you consume more calories than you expend, you put on weight, its as easy as that. When I started playing poker my diet didn't drastically change, I simply burnt considerably less calories than I had previously because of the long periods of time I was now sitting for.
Now there are a number of ways you can work out your calorific needs, but the one I remember from when I was a fitness fanatic is a very easy to remember calculation. Basically if you multiply your weight in pounds by eleven, that is the number of calories you need in a day to maintain your current bodyweight. There are many more complex and more accurate ways to get this figure but as a general guideline to the calorie counters out there this is as good as it gets.
Bodyweight (Pounds) X 11 = Number of calories needed to maintain current bodyweight
So with my starting weight at 203lbs I required 2233 calories a day to maintain my current weight. 2233 calories is roughly what my body will burn off naturally in a normal day, so if I eat less calories or if I burn off more calories than that through exercise, I will lose weight. You need a deficit of 3500 calories to lose a pound of body fat, so burning off or reducing your intake by 500 calories a day will do this.
So what have I been doing to make sure I am keeping under my calorie count?
Regular exercise of course. I've been hitting the gym 3 or 4 times a week as well as going on some daily 30 minute walks. I've been boxing mainly because I find it a lot of fun (just imagine the punch bag is the guy that called down your set and made his flush). You really don't have to be running marathons or lifting 300lb weights to keep your weight down, any regular strenuous activity is beneficial. You don't even need to work out that much, if you are prepared to limit the amount that you are eating you can do a minimum of exercise.
To give you an idea of the impact of activity compared to inactivity:
- A good session in the gym can burn off between 400-800 calories, depending on the intensity.
- Walking at a brisk pace can burn off as much as 300 calories an hour
- Dancing for an hour can burn off around 300 calories
- Playing poker will burn off 90 calories an hour.
I have also been trying out a version of something I did (unsuccessfully) a couple of years ago, a poker performance related exercise regime. Basically myself and a friend devised a system where, when we made certain elementary poker mistakes that cost us money, we would punish ourselves with exercise, there and then! The logic was we would either lose weight or win money during a session so there would be a positive outcome regardless, and it went something like this:
- Lose a buy-in = 50 Press-ups
- Lose more than half your stack chasing a draw = 25 Press-ups
- Slow play a hand and allow an opponent to draw out = 50 Press-ups
- Go broke with a weak ace = 100 Press-ups
And so on. A very good idea in theory however it was getting difficult to focus when I was all flustered and sweaty, and sometimes I would just not do it because I would be too involved in a game. It is also too ridiculous to do in a casino (unless you are Phil Laak) and you would probably get thrown out.
Now I am adopting a similar logic, but carrying out the exercise the following day at the gym. So basically every time I lose a buy-in in a cash game or allow someone to out draw my Aces I will add maybe ten minutes on the treadmill or 3 more sets of press-ups to tomorrow's gym regime.
And so far so good. I now weigh 200lbs which is a loss of 3lbs and the average person should be aiming to lose no more than 2lb a week, but most tend to drop a bit more than that in week one because of the dramatic change in lifestyle. I'm feeling very good and my workouts are finally challenging and enjoyable again (probably because of my renewed interest in them from this experiment).
It is going to be very difficult to assess how this is effecting my current ability at poker. With chance being such a significant factor in poker it would be wrong to make any bold statements such as 'I won XXX last night, it must be because I'm exercising'. The only real way I can assess how this is effecting my game in the short term is based on how I feel I am playing. I am a very objective critic of my own play and I do trust myself to do that. At the moment I feel I am playing well, however a lot of that will be due to the fact that I am aware I am monitoring myself in a more controlled way than I am used to.
In the long term I am hoping the results will speak for themselves and there is a direct correlation between winning dollars and losing pounds (geddit?) - possibly culminating with the image of me doing star jumps between hands at the World Series of Poker Final Table.
Next week I will be looking at exercise in more depth and its link with mental performance.
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