Poker Fitness: Can Gambling and a Healthy Lifestyle Coexist?

Playing cards, poker chips and a dealer chip scattered on a wooden table.

Photo: ThorstenF/305 Images/Pixabay

I’m hardly a huge gambler. I’ve been to Las Vegas once and that was plenty. Successful gambling requires focus, intellect and alert risk assessment; coincidentally the first three things to leave me when I come into contact with flashing lights, cheap food and cleavage. Five minutes inside a casino and I look like something out of a George Romero zombie picture, slobbering, incoherent and shuffling my way towards a $2.50 plate of steak and eggs.

Some people, however, function wonderfully in a gambling environment. And many of us are spending more time than ever at the tables, slots and roulette wheels. We’ve replaced the bingo of our parents’ generation with baccarat, blackjack and keno. And we’re not playing for toasters anymore. The stakes can get high, financially and physically.

Gambling is a triple threat in that it tends to raise our blood pressure and expose us to noxious clouds of second-hand smoke, all while sitting on our tush with a fishbowl-sized cocktail in our mitt. Hardly aerobic.

So what do we do? What steps do we need to take to ensure a long and enjoyable life of losing our shirts?

Dave Scharf is a morning man at C95 FM in Saskatoon. His Dad taught him how to play poker at the age of five and he’s had cards in his fist ever since. Dave doesn’t describe himself as a “professional” gambler. With him it’s more of a “passionate hobby.” Remind me never to sit in with a bunch of passionate hobbyists. At his peak, Dave was spending more than a thousand hours a year at the poker table. That’s three hours a day in the casino. I don’t think the Rat Pack put in that much time.

Still, at 43, Dave is fit, healthy and, for a morning man, relatively sane. How? Well, in Dave’s words gambling isn’t really the issue. Gaming itself isn’t any more stressful than most people’s jobs. The risk “… is the lifestyle. Totally sedentary. Smoke-filled casinos. Lots of deep-fried, beige food.”

In the early ’80s and ’90s Scharf was into table games, blackjack and counting cards. However, although a smoker himself, eventually the smoke drove him out of the casino and into online poker playing. I can attest to the toxicity of most gaming establishments. In Vegas, in order to get from my room to the outside world, I had to walk through the casino. Some mornings that journey was like Test Day at the Toronto Fire Academy. Still, it’s amazing how much of that you can tolerate when the drinks are free and the waitresses are wearing dental floss bikinis. But I digress.

If you’re bound and determined to spend time in the casino, poker is one of the healthiest choices. Poker rooms are now almost exclusively smoke-free and, of course, there’s always the online option where the drinks may not exactly be free, but they always have your brand in stock.

Dave himself, dropped the nicotine habit back in 1998 and has made fitness and a healthy diet important balancing partners to his time at the card table. He swims, runs, rides his bike, works out and plays soccer. Add to that regular visits to his physician to monitor his health and the result is that he is not only able to frequently enjoy his “passionate hobby” but to play longer and better.

The bottom line seems to be that same lesson we all learned the first time we ate too much Halloween candy and threw up in bed or cranked too much heroin and woke up in a Turkish prison. Everything in moderation.