It always makes me laugh when Darts players refer to themselves as sportsman. I always sneered at the television screen whenever a younger snooker player was said to have an advantage over his older opponent on the merit of his fitness. I then started a pursuit that requires significantly less strenuous activity than either of the above, yet I am one of those people who coyly thinks of poker being a member of the world of sport, which just happens to be located in the arena of the casino.
So I am a bit of a hypocrite with some very conflicting, naive views about a game of chance. Well, I'm not going to delve any further today into the, is poker a sport debate, though I might in the future. My last two diary entries focussed on the damage that poker can do to ones health, today I am going to look at how regular exercise can actually improve your ability as a poker player.
There are a multitude of health benefits of regular exercise, such as weight management, self confidence, increased life expectancy and looking good naked. But if all that doesn't convince you to get off your backside and dust off your Reebok pumps, there are a number of significant benefits that relate to mental performance that can be directly linked to playing poker. By regular exercise, I am talking about at least 3 times a week, for at least 30 minutes at a time - but obviously better off if you can do more than that.
Regular exercise will strengthen your heart and lungs, which aids blood to travel more effectively round the rest of your body. The increased blood flow will transport more oxygen to your brain which will essentially make it work better and will also make you feel refreshed and energetic. Regular cardiovascular exercise has been linked to mental sharpness in a huge number of medical experiments.
I personally can vouch for this, a month ago before I started this experiment, I found myself feeling sluggish during sessions and not paying full attention at the table. Now I can honestly say I feel very very alert whenever I play. I am paying much more attention to my opponents and I am putting them on hands more accurately than I have in a while. Whereas before I could be playing (online) and easily distracted by TV, radio, web browsers etc, now I am very focussed.
I am also coming up with amusing retorts so much more effortlessly whenever a bit of table banter starts, so maybe there is even a link between exercise and wit?
I am also feeling very happy and very confident, and we all know how important this is to playing cards. I am very chatty at the table, which I have always used to my advantage and I am taking risks that are paying off – I attribute this to the positive mood I am in at all times.
Exercise is linked closely with mood, in fact it is considered in many medical circles as an excellent treatment for depression. Phenylethylamine (thank god for cut&paste because I never would have been able to spell that) is a naturally produced chemical which has been linked with the regulation of mood, attention and energy, and is produced more in individuals who exercise regularly. It has also been linked with the 'runners high' effect which is created after intensive exercise and is a very pleasant legal high indeed.
When someone is feeling stressed, adrenaline spills into the blood stream and you get into 'fight or flight' mode, your muscles tense in preparation to either fight or run away. This is a highly intense physical experience which can create ill temper, sleep problems and illness. Poker is, at times, extremely stressful, when your Aces get sucked out on for the third time in a row, you go on tilt, which is essentially the same thing.
We all know how tilt effects the way we play, luckily one form of stress (tilt) relief is exercise. Exercise provides a natural way to release tension in the body and puts us in a natural state of relaxation. Yoga is a good example of the link between a stress free mind and healthy body, but I find whacking this *@&£ out of a punchbag to work quite well too.
Even though I am a non smoker, there have been occasions where a really really bad beat might result in me buying a pack of cigarettes, smoking one and throwing them away. I don't feel the need to do that now, today I took two consecutive nut-flush-sucked-out-by-full-house-bad-beats, yes the air was blue, but by the next hand was dealt I was calm and playing well again. After my (losing) session I went and pumped some iron at the gym and I am feeling really good.
Tests have shown on a group of people who started running regularly that their marks on memory tests had significantly improved, only to go back to normal after they had stopped running (suggesting that it is very important to keep it up).
This is another benefit I can personally advocate. Online poker players use player notes to keep a track of people they have played before, because of not being able to put a face to their name. In the last few days I have found myself recognising players based on their name alone and not having to confer with my player notes.
Not only have I been remembering the aliases of the players, I have remembered how they play without having to consult pokertracker, which is remarkable considering how easy it is to become reliant on technology like pokertracker online players become.
I can honestly say that I am playing better at the moment than I have for about 4 months. I feel sharp, alert, confident and observant. I am really enjoying poker at the moment and I am really enjoying the gym. Its going to be hard to pinpoint if there is any one difference maker in my experiment that has helped my play because I have made so many lifestyle and dietary changes, but needless to say healthy body healthy mind is something of a given so far in my journey.
I am now weighing 198lb which is a loss of 5lb in total since I started. This weekend I am in Newcastle for the APAT event and the first thing I did after registering for the event was book a hotel with a gym in it, whereas I would normally be looking where the best places to go out on the lash would be.
Next week I will be looking at dietary changes that can reap dividends at the card table.
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