The correlation between running and mind sports

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Running is one of the most popular ways to exercise in the U.S., while the two most popular mind sports in the world are chess and poker. While chess and poker may appear as far away from running as possible, the two types of sports can equally benefit the other.

You might be wondering, what could these two drastically different sports have in common? Well, both types of sports require players to have a strong focus, concentration, and psychological fortitude to be successful.

Distance runner and chess player Christian Fuller told the Mammoth Times that the sports complement each other. “Running, being athletic and active, trains the body, which helps the brain function better. Chess trains the mind, which in turn, helps develop strategies and tactics for running. It’s a big full circle.” Such is his passion for combining the two sports that he teaches them together.

One man who may agree with him is professional poker player Sorel Mizzi. Mizzi told an interviewer, “[exercising] before a tournament makes such as major difference to my mental clarity.” Studies have shown that exercise boosts the amount of blood that gets to the brain which in turn helps with memory retention. Like chess, remembering the opponent’s moves and habits is the key to winning.

Both chess and poker have seen a resurgence in popularity due to online gaming. More players are competing not at the card table or across the board but on their computers and mobile devices. A study focusing on gaming outlet Gaming Realms showed that the gaming industry is expected to keep growing with mobile gaming as the key driver. Gaming Realms principal gaming site Slingo features digital versions of popular card games that can be accessed on mobile devices. The same is true of chess with ABC revealing that chess players were swapping the physical checked board for the virtual one. As more players use their computers or mobile devices to play so too does the importance of exercise increase. Online players are much less likely to be active than someone who plays in physical tournaments.

Exercising has long been considered one of the most effective ways to train the mind and the body. Running a marathon is both a physical and mental challenge, as a runner must overcome the pain in their legs and the negativity in their mind. Michelle Hamilton believes that to improve your running ability you need to “train your brain like you train your body.” She recalls how she was diagnosed as a “negative thinking, results-oriented runner.” In order to train her brain, she uses focus tools (“a word, phrase, or action that mutes destructive chatter and keeps you in the moment”). Her focus point was concentrating on her footsteps. After many attempts she gradually managed to employ them and saw a marked improvement in her motivation and performance.

In chess and poker the negative feeling of doubt can also have a huge effect on performance. Exercising regularly will increase focus and boost concentration. Chess, poker, and running all require a person to rely on their mental strength to succeed. A runner who doesn’t focus on their mental game, and a mind sports player who ignores physical activity, are both stopping themselves from reaching their full potential.

What do you do when your mind starts wandering toward negative thinking late in a race? I usually resort to counting, because it keeps my mind focused on something besides the pain. Hey, even marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe used the tactic of counting to 100. “She had talked herself through near-exhaustion by counting to 100, by aiming at landmarks, and by thoughts like, ‘No matter how exhausted I might feel, a half-an-hour run is one I can manage.’ ”

This is a contributed post. 

Running and chess

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2 thoughts on “The correlation between running and mind sports

  1. A few years ago I started counting pedal strokes while biking to get up a particularly hard hill. That has turned into my biggest habit for workouts and races, repeatedly counting to 10 steps of my right foot(I’m not sure why I don’t count higher instead of starting over…but whatever). It’s such a mind game but love that it affects me physically too.

    • I agree, it’s a great way to distract yourself from how you’re feeling. I’ve done the lower number too, sometimes it’s more difficult to count to a higher number when you are super fatigued!

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