As one of the most popular card games in existence, and one that is played all around the world, poker has a very wide appeal for players. For some of us, we are drawn into the strategic elements of the game, and nothing entices us like the chance to use some strategy and outsmart our friends and rivals. For others, it’s the social side of things, and the poker table represents the perfect environment to sit down, chill out, and enjoy some downtime with friends.
What you might be surprised to find out, however, is that there are a number of surprising benefits for your physical and mental health. Poker is often associated with dingy casinos filled with cigars, alcohol and bad-quality fried food, but as it is most commonly played online and at home these days, many of the negative health associations no longer apply. In fact, if played in a controlled online environment at home, poker can have a number of health benefits.
In this article, we will set out some of the surprising health benefits that a friendly game of poker can have on your brain.
Keeping your mind active
As a game of skill that requires dedicated, regular practice, a game of poker is surprisingly demanding on your brain. A typical game of poker can be cognitively intense, often requiring focus and dedication for a long period of time. In particular, being successful at poker requires you to be able to engage in abstract thinking, and to creatively guess what hands your rivals might have. Once you have this figured out, you then need to somehow incorporate this into an effective strategy. This is enough to make anyone’s brain work up a sweat! As you progress in your skills, a game of poker thus acts as a mini-workout for your brain, building up a surprising amount of creativity, focus and cognition.
Nimble fingers: coin flipping improves hand-eye coordination
Although you might do it absentmindedly between rounds or while you wait for your rivals to place their bets, flipping your chips between your fingers has a surprising impact on hand-eye coordination. Rolling the poker chips across your fingers improves overall hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
The social side of things
Regardless of whether you choose to play in a land-based casino or via an online casino gaming website, poker is by far the most social casino game out there. This makes complete sense given that the games can often unfold over the course of several hours and, more often than not, involve a few beers as part of the normal course of play! Joking aside, the social side of the game has a significant benefit on players in terms of their brain health.
It is a well-known fact in scientific literature that being around people is good for you. This is not just in terms of the social skills you can develop, but also because being social keeps your mind healthy by lowering anxiety and stress levels. In fact, if any of the latest studies are an indication, keeping social as you age can have a big impact on general longevity. Importantly, there doesn’t seem to be a massive difference between online and in-person interactions, so online poker games are the perfect place to explore the social side of the game!
Boost your willpower
Although you might associate casino games with the perfect example of impulsive behaviour, this is not strictly the case when it comes to a game of poker. Casinos, particularly land-based ones, can often be filled with constant distraction, and many of the games are designed specifically with this purpose in mind, such as slot machines or roulette wheels. The game of poker, however, is the complete opposite of this and requires a steely determination, strength of mind, and laser focus to win a game. In order to keep yourself focused during a game of poker, you have to both ignore the world around you, and not get led astray by your own wandering mind.
Only then will you be able to work through a strategy and implement it on the card table. With that said, poker is the perfect game for strengthening your focus and willpower. In a typical game of poker, you are constantly battling against your impulsive mind: when to bet, when to fold, how much to bet – the list goes on! Only when you can keep these out of your mind and focused on the hand that you have will you be able to formulate a strategy. It is this that makes poker such an effective game for strengthening your willpower!
Supercharge your memory!
A further cognitive benefit you get from playing poker is how it strengthens your working memory. Given the length of time that poker games spread out over, with single rounds often going on for ten to 15 minutes or more, this requires a keen memory.
To be an effective player, you will have to pay an incredible amount of attention to everything going on around you, such as how certain players react to the goings on of the game, what cards you have, or what cards your rivals have. These sorts of exercises are surprisingly taxing on your working memory, and it can be cognitively demanding to recall all the relevant information you have spotted over the course of a game. In this sense, when you are playing a game of poker – particularly those longer games – you will be giving your memory a good workout!
Kicking your creative thinking up a gear
Poker is a game based on strategy and, as a result, creativity. Indeed, without being able to creatively respond to the unfolding developments in the game, you will never be able to formulate or implement a successful poker strategy. It is the strategic side of things that makes poker such a creative game. This has a number of obvious benefits for your brain and helps to keep your creative problem-solving skills sharpened.
Controlling your emotions
In a typical game of poker, you will experience the full gamut of emotions, from stress and happiness, to elation and anxiety. To be successful in poker, however, you need to work to hide these – otherwise, you risk giving away your hand and playing position. This forces you to control your emotions and to prevent yourself from developing any noticeable “tells”. Having to so closely manage your emotions is a surprisingly good mental exercise and will have positive mental consequences. After all, this is precisely the type of behaviour that all the mindfulness gurus out there encourage!
Improve your sleep
Given that poker is such a cognitively demanding game, it is not surprising that you will often feel tired and drained by the end of the game. This is because a typical game of poker involves so many different elements of your brain, from the social skills side of things to the creative problem solving needed to formulate and implement a proper strategy – playing a full game of poker is like a full-body workout for your brain. When you have exerted yourself a lot in this manner, you will obviously need sleep to repair and recover. With a tired brain, you should feel yourself drifting off to sleep a lot easier, which is great for recovery and general health.
Keeping dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at bay
Recent scientific studies have shown that card games such as poker reduce the neurodegenerative effects of ageing, as well as helping to prevent the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s by as much as 50%. A 2009 study found that those individuals regularly playing card games, including poker, were engaging in activities that actively slowed the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. This was the case for poker in particular above other card games as it requires a high amount of skill and strategy compared to games of chance that are not as cognitively demanding. Add to this the social skills involved, which are proven to slow neurodegeneration and the effects of ageing, and poker is scientifically proven to be a powerful tool in promoting all-round brain health.
Get started today and boost your brainpower!
As you can probably tell having read the above article, there are a surprising amount of health benefits to be gained from playing poker. From the impact that it has on your social life, to its ability to slow the onset of the neurodegeneration associated with ageing, poker can be a powerful tool in your own personal health and fitness arsenal. If you fancy trying your hand at poker and seeing if it brings you any benefits, why not try a free-to-play demo account with Bitcasino? Bitcasino’s free-to-play demo accounts are available to all users who sign up for an account and allow you to try as much online poker as you want without having to put up any money. With that said, head over to Bitcasino and get playing today!
Words: Sean McNulty