You might not think of chess players as athletes, as Christopher Berglund wrote in Psychology Today in 2013, while chess of course is a deeply cerebral sport, it’s also one whose top players have become serious athletes. He focuses particularly on world champion (and general media phenom) Magnus Carlsen and his routine:
Carlsen does not focus on his opening preparation as much as other top players. He plays a variety of openings—which he comes up with while running on a treadmill daily.
The link between physical activity and problem solving is something that anyone who works out regularly has experienced first hand. Being physically fit not only gives you physical stamina, it makes you more creative while giving you self-esteem and resilience to navigate life’s challenges….
Although chess is not a game that is usually associated with physical stamina, it actually requires tremendous physical endurance. Carlsen’s creative ability to build unbeatable positions combined with his stamina and endgame have drawn comparisons to the style of play used by many former world champions.
Carlsen revises his opening habitually while jogging on a treadmill which keeps him mentally sharp and physically fit. As Carlsen describes, “These long tournaments are quite tiring and long games are very tiring, especially at the end.” He recently told The Associated Press, “If you are in good shape and can keep your concentration you will be the one who will profit from your opponents’ mistakes.” Adding, “In general towards the end of the tournaments younger players have that advantage so the other players will have to try to equal that by having good fitness as well.” As we get older, it becomes more important for all of us all to stay physically fit to maintain a competitive advantage in a cut-throat world.
Recently there have been a number of studies on the cognitive benefits of exercise, that show how exercise stimulates the production of brain cells, and generally how stronger bodies make for stronger minds. Indeed, exercise is one of the things that separates great scientists from merely average ones.
Carlsen is not unusual in this: Alexander Kosteniuk runs five kilometers every morning and advised new players,
I cannot stress enough how important physical preparation is before chess tournaments. Chess competition is tough, requires many hours spent at the chess board, with maximum concentration. You need all your strength and nerves to be in top form. Nothing will prepare you better than being in best physical form.
While those of us old enough to remember the day of Cold War chess competitions might recall chain-smoking heavyset guys throwing pieces, now at least a respectable minority of serious players takes for granted that physical fitness gives you the mental toughness and simple stamina required to play world-class games.