Fitness and Tiltlessness (and Gambling Rats!)

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Spoiler: Rats playing “small-ball”

The life of a professional online poker player may not always be so glorious.  Spending countless hours seated in front of a draining computer monitor living on quick or prepared meals.  A mini fridge at your side with water and red bulls for those marathon sessions.  After long sessions you can be so drained your body doesn’t even have the energy to move.  2 outers and runner-runners do more than empty your pockets, it leads to increased stress, tilt and weight gain.  For most of us that live in the poker world a workout routine is something that we have to include as part of our lively hood.  But is there more benefit to working out than just keeping that number on the scale to a respectable number?

Barry Greenstein talks about in his book, “Ace on the River“, that gamblers have a deficiency of serotonin in their brain, and consequently, gamble to replace that. What happens when we increase serotonin? Do we lose the desire to “gamble” or do we simply make better decisions?  Sheryl Ubelacker, based on a interesting study with rats, writes that increased serotonin may lead to better judgement:

[box] “Having to sit through these very tedious timeouts was very frustrating for them [the rats] and it lost them time they could be earning reward at another location,” Winstanley said from Vancouver. “So they had to learn to avoid those very tempting larger reward options and instead go for smaller reward options that would over time give them maximal gain.” In other words, the rodents were able to calculate risk and opted for a number of small wins instead of taking a chance on a jackpot. “They had to learn that over time playing conservatively and playing safe was the best strategy,” she said, noting that the animals made the optimal choice 60 to 70 per cent of the time on any given day.

The researchers also tested how the rats’ responses differed after being given certain drugs to reduce levels of two brain chemicals linked to gambling behaviour. When the rodents were given an agent that lowers serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls mood and impulses, “what we saw was a reduced ability of our animals to discriminate the best option,” said Winstanley. “They became worse gamblers, if you like.” Interestingly, drugs to boost serotonin levels – antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft – are used to treat people with a gambling addiction, she noted. Using a compound to drop dopamine levels had the opposite effect on the rats, which improved their ability to optimize rewards, the study found.

Read the full study here:


Cliffs: Increasing serotonin = Better judgement.

The questions now becomes how do we increase serotonin (without the use of prescription drugs)?

First is diet. Eat a meal that is high in slowly digested carbs such as oatmeal, whole grains, beans and lentils. Stay away from highly refined and processed foods like white bread, muffins, bagels, candies and sugary, low-fiber cereals. Eating slowly digested carbs will release insulin into your bloodstream, which in turn will cause tryptophan– the amino acid from which serotonin is made–to freely enter your brain and increase your serotonin levels.  Tim Ferriss is a nationwide best seller and subject leader for the Slow Carb diet in his book, “The 4-Hour Body.”

Next is exercise. Simon Evans, in his article “Physical Fitness improves Brain Health”, explains how the brain’s hippocampus is the part of the brain that responds to stress.  He explains people of physical fitness were able to handle higher levels and more amounts of stress.  The improvement is comparable to anti-depressants that can be prescribed to patients who experience high amounts of stress.  Exercise is a natural stimulator of many important “mood” hormones, including serotonin and dopamine. Another benefit is working out increases blood flow to your brain, which can improve memory longevity and increased reproduction of new brain cells.  This would give you an opportunity of spending more time, and improving your A-game.

By: Matthew Meeker

Photography By: adria.richards

[box type=”info”]+EV Investments:

1. “The 4-Hour Body – An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and becoming Superhuman” by Tim Ferris – Best guide on the Slow Carb diet and a better way to exercise.

2. Break at 55? How about the Iron Gym Pull-Up Bar! – I have one, perfect for stress relieve. With this all-in-one, you can do pull-ups, push-ups, dips, abs, etc.

3. “Ace on the River” by Barry Greenstein