Yes—Mental Sports Benefit from Physical Exercise Too

In last week’s article, I talked about the importance of sleeping, eating, and hydrating appropriately in order to help facilitate maximum performance in Magic tournaments. As a continuation of that discussion, today I wanted to take things one step further and talk about the importance of using exercise to achieve maximum performance in tournaments. But before I get into the nitty gritty of that discussion, I think it’s important to start by asking a very important question:

Is competitive Magic a game or a sport?

As someone who’s been fortunate enough to work with athletes at the highest level in various sports, the amount of preparation, dedication, commitment, and awareness those athletes have when it comes to maximizing themselves in every capacity is astounding. They leverage everything from physical to mental training, yoga, nutrition, sleep, and more. For them, their sport is more than just a game. It’s their profession, and they’re constantly looking for ways to give an edge over their competition.

I’ve always classified competitive Magic as a sport. I don’t think of it as just as game. It’s a sport where performance is paramount and finding ways to maximize both the player and their performance is essential. Having said that, it’s important to make a distinction here. Magic itself is a game. It’s a game that should always be loved and enjoyed. Competitive Magic is the act of taking that game you love and enjoy and turning it into a sport where performance is now a major part of the equation. You still love the game, have fun, and enjoy playing Magic, but with the competitive aspect added to the mix, the performance side of the game gets factored in, and as such, how you approach the game in terms of preparation and performance should change as well.

Competitive and professional Magic is too often viewed as merely a game and not a sport. As a consequence, many players don’t approach high level Magic with the correct mindset and don’t take it, or themselves, seriously enough. Contrast that to other e-sports such as League of Legends where a number of professional players and teams hire performance and fitness coaches to help them with physical training regimens, meal planning, yoga, and more. Now, as a competitive or professional Magic player, does this mean you should be hiring a fitness coach or yoga instructor to help you play better? Not necessarily, no. That depends on what level you’re playing at. But it illustrates the importance of preparing the body and mind physically so that you and your brain can perform as well as possible in tournaments and maximize every edge you can.

The Benefits of Exercise

Should you be concerned with doing physical exercise as a way to perform better in your tournaments? Well, let’s take a look. Here is a list of some of the scientifically established benefits that exercising can provide to you:

  • Treats mild/moderate depression as effectively as anti-depressant medication
  • Releases endorphins that help to reduce anxiety
  • Reduces physical tension and mental stress
  • Reduces the symptoms of ADHD
  • Improves concentration and memory
  • Sharpens thinking, focus, and decision-making
  • Increases confidence
  • Elevates mood
  • Prevents cognitive decline
  • Boosts creativity and imagination
  • Helps to promote better sleep
  • Increases physical and emotional pain tolerance
  • Fosters mental resilience
  • Strengthens muscles and bones
  • Increases energy levels
  • Increases weight loss
  • Reduces risk of chronic disease and illness
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases life span

Unbelievable. The range of benefits that physical exercise provides is enormous, and if you’re not taking advantage of it, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice in terms of your own physical and mental health—you’re neglecting to take advantage of something that can give you a massive edge in your game and your career as a Magic player.

Cardio Exercise

For most people, basic cardio exercise is more than enough. With 30-60 minutes daily of cardio exercise, you can reap most if not all of the benefits listed above. It doesn’t have to be anything intense. Even something as simple as walking is hugely beneficial. It simply depends on your body composition and what you’re capable of doing when getting started. If you’re overweight and just getting into exercise, start by simply going for walks. Plan out a defined route that you can take and walk it out. Bring music with you as well so that you can listen to music while walking. Once you get used to walking and feel comfortable doing something more intense, ramp up the speed and start going jogging. Once you feel comfortable with that, try running. At every stage, increase the intensity when you feel ready.

Outside of walking and running, there are numerous other beneficial forms of cardio: cycling, kayaking, rowing, soccer, tennis, football, basketball, swimming, dancing, and many more. If you have an interest in a specific sport that’s cardio-heavy, get some friends together who like to play that sport and organize a weekly game. Or find a local group that plays that sport that you could jump in with. Not only will this help with your physical health, it will help with your social skills and social adaptation as well. No matter what you decide to do, cardio exercise is your best bet as it’s going to benefit you the most when it comes to tournament performance, as it boosts energy levels and greatly reduces things like physical and mental burnout.

Weight Training

While not completely necessary for tournament performance in Magic, weight training is still extremely beneficial for the body and something you should look to incorporate as part of an overall physical health routine. And again, like with cardio exercise, it doesn’t have to mean slamming 300 lbs on the bench press or curling 50 lb dumbbells. The purpose of weight training is to build muscular strength, and that’s something you can do in your own home without a ton of equipment. You don’t need an expensive gym membership or a decked out home gym in order to get into shape.

Things like push-ups, lunges, sit-ups, squats, and pull-ups work essentially every major muscle group in your body and they require very little to zero equipment to do. Once you find yourself getting into better shape and need to add weights in so that you can keep improving, that’s when you can either start getting free weights for your home or sign up to join a gym. If you’re already in decent physical shape and can go straight to lifting weights, then go ahead and purchase some free weights or join a gym and get started!

In the end, the requirements for effective exercise are as follows: If you’re between the ages of 13-17, it’s recommended that you get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. If you’re between the ages of 18-65, it’s recommended that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. Simply gauge where you are at this point and time and use that as your starting point. If you can only walk or do body weight exercises for 60 minutes in the beginning, start there. As you get fitter and stronger, you can increase the intensity, whether it be in cardio or weights.

As we all know, physical health is one of the big elephants in the room when it comes to Magic. Magic and health have almost never gone together well. Many Magic players have poor physical health because they don’t eat well enough and have poor nutritional, sleeping, and exercise habits. To be clear, I’m not judging anyone’s character by any means, nor would I ever judge a person based on their physical appearance. That goes without saying. But as someone who cares about people, who loves Magic, and who is passionate about people becoming the best version of themselves as a player and a person, this issue has to be addressed openly and that’s why I wanted to discuss it today.

Ultimately, this goes beyond Magic. Taking care of yourself physically and mentally will improve your overall quality of life. When that happens, those benefits will spill over from your daily life into your life as a Magic player. Even for traditional athletes, there’s very much a connection between personal life and sport, and they both affect one another. If one is suffering, the other tends to suffer as well. By doing more physical exercise and improving your body and mind, you’re guaranteed to see crossover benefits coming from both your personal life and your Magic career.

I also talk about this topic and more in my new book called Mental Mana – Mastering The Mental Game Of Magic: The Gathering, a book that’s all about helping players such as yourself master the mental side of the game and develop yourself as a whole person, for Magic and for life. It’s available now over on Amazon in both paperback and e-book, so if this kind of subject matter is something you’re interested in or if you know you need to work on those aspects of your game, head on over and grab yourself a copy. I’m confident you’ll enjoy it and get a lot of benefit out of it!

Have any great exercise tips or routines that you use that you think could benefit other players? Talk about it in the comment section and share it with others.

Thanks for reading. I wish you all the best, and get to exercising!

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