Playing poker contributes to 'brain health lifestyle'

Jan 29, 2013 3:00 AM

Your brain is a marvelous organ, essential to living a happy and productive life. Cherish and nourish it. Poker can help.

Why play poker? Is it only to win money from your opponents? The vast majority of players are not professionals who rely on poker for their income; we play for recreation. This includes enjoyment of the game and social interaction with others.

Many experts have written about health benefits of playing poker, especially as we grow older. (Hopefully, all of us will live a lot longer – the longer the better.) Top medical experts and scientists agree the mental stimulation from playing poker can contribute to a “brain health lifestyle.”

A new book, “Save Your Brain,” by Dr. Paul David Nussbaum, clinical neuropsychologist and “brain health ambassador,” provides five “simple and practical tips…to begin the process of living a proactive brain health lifestyle.”

Nourish your brain. At the top of Dr. Nussbaum’s list is “socialization.” While he focuses on “building a supportive network of family and friends,” we could easily add to that having a group of poker buddies and acquaintances – new and old friends you can cultivate wherever you are among people with similar interests.

That’s true whether you prefer to play your poker in a casino or a home game – or in one of the new poker league venues that are attracting more and more poker players. Just sitting at the table with other people to observe and talk to, is a good form of social interaction.

After we retire, it is wise to have a purpose in life; many do volunteer work. Dr. Nussbaum tells us it is good to have a “purpose for getting up each day.” I am sure many of you look forward to your night out at the casino, playing your favorite poker game with fellow poker players. It’s healthy competition.

Mental stimulation. (I think this is the most important of his tips.) Dr. Nussbaum lists “playing games” as a highly recommended mental stimulant. Playing poker superbly fills the bill! Making decisions hand after hand; deciding whether to raise or fold; looking for tells; evaluating your opponents at the table; estimating the pot odds and the card odds (Do I have a Positive Expectation?); avoiding mistakes…and so many other intellectual challenges provide us with loads of mental stimulants.

One form of mental stimulant he lists is “debating new ideas.” I had not thought of this before. Many of us discuss/debate poker strategies and concepts with poker buddies – or even communicate with poker columnists who welcome and respond to comments. Analyzing situations and discussing these with others serves as an excellent mental stimulant. The idea, of course, is to keep your mind alert.

Physical activity. It pumps blood, oxygen and glucose to the brain. I make it a habit, every few hours, to go outside and take a brisk walk around the casino. Breathe deeply and swing your arms as you walk. It also will clear your lungs.

Think about the game as you walk: Have I been making any mistakes? How can I best play against that maniac to my left? (Answer: Try to change seats so you are to his left.) I won’t comment on his other two tips, Spirituality and Nutrition.

Dr. Nussbaum explains that exercizing your brain and body – even walking – helps to create new brain cells. Avoid becoming a “couch potato.” If you are not careful, retirement CAN be hazardous to your brain and body health. The “brain reserve” you develop, will serve “to fight off or delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.”

Summary: Playing poker can provide us with a fun (and potentially profitable) way to delay or prevent memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we STOP playing.”

We invite your comments. Email to [email protected].

 GamingToday on Facebook      and         GamingToday on Twitter