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Is Playing Chess a Good Form of Exercise?

Chess players aren't exactly known for their physical prowess, but maybe they should be. In fact, high-level chess tournaments can often be major calorie-burning workouts. There's so much brain power required to compete in an elite tournament that grandmasters can burn up to 6,000 calories a day. That's according to Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Stanford University. Anecdotal evidence from chess champions confirms Sapolsky's research, as many grandmasters have reported losing over 10 lbs (4.5 kg) during a competition. So how can you burn so many calories just by sitting? It's not likely to be an effective long-term exercise strategy, but at times of intense concentration and stress, when the brain is working exceptionally hard, it can happen. The human brain, after all, needs energy to function, and actually burns an estimated 20% of the total calories utilized by the body. Mentally-taxing activities and stress can lead to an elevated heart rate and increased oxygen intake, thus burning even more calories.

Your move:

  • Many chess grandmasters follow strict diet and fitness regimens in order to strengthen their bodies for the grueling mental demands of chess tournaments.

  • The 1984 World Chess Championship was ultimately called off, partially because of the toll it was taking on defending champion Anatoly Karpov, who lost 22 lbs (10 kg) over the course of the tournament.

  • Russian grandmaster Mikhail Antipov was found to have burned 560 calories over two hours of playing chess in 2018.

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