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Health, Family, and Happiness

by Daniel Negreanu |  Published: Apr 10, '15


Recently I got involved in a twitter conversation about health. When I go on road trips I like to plan ahead and make sure I do everything I can possibly do to ensure that I will find the kind of foods I'm looking for. I typically do some research online and find suitable options almost anywhere.

Well, I'm planning on playing the WPT Championship in Atlantic City in a few weeks and it has been quite a while since my last trip to A.C. I was a little surprised how difficult it was to find the kind of healthy food options I am looking for. It's quite easy to eat well at home. My chef Joel makes me exactly what I want using only the best ingredients possible. It's a luxury I don't take for granted. On the road, I have to plan ahead, and even then it's not quite the same as Joel's cooking.

I went to twitter for help, asking people if they could direct me towards a Whole Foods Market type store, and I want to thank all of you who helped me. I really appreciate it, truly.

Anyway, the discussion of health came up and it inspired this blog. For me, the idea of living a healthy lifestyle that includes eating well and exercise really hits home. I'm 40 now, and both my parents have passed on. I was blessed, in that, I had the absolute greatest childhood ever with two parents who showed love daily, but I have to say, I wish they could have stuck around a little longer...

My father passed away at 65. Just when I was starting out my poker career in the late 90's. He went from being a super strong 63 year old that could kick ass, to a brittle, emaciated, shell of the man he was. The last six months of his life were tough. He had good days and bad days, but seeing Superman reduced to the frail man he had become wasn't easy for either of us.

My dad was born in 1931 and really came from nothing. He made a life for himself, running his own radio shop by age 16. No real parents to speak of, he never knew his father, and his mother was mentally ill and not around. He was a street kid since from about the age of 4. He didn't do school, he was trading on the black market at a young age and was your prototypical hustler. Doing whatever he could to make money. He even boxed in his late teens and early 20's, breaking his nose 7 times!

My dad liked to drink, he loved fried foods, pasta, bread, salami, typical European style diet. He also smoked, but only when he was drinking, which was almost every day. Some of my fondest memories of my father was when we would sit by the pool in the backyard, he would have a glass of wine and usually a cigarette. He would put apples in his wine when I was a kid, let them soak, and then let me eat them. I still remember how good that tasted!

By 64, all the drinking, smoking, and eating a suboptimal diet caught up with him. His body broke down and it was too late for him to make any changes to recover. He died at 65.


My mother, who many of you have likely seen cooking for me on ESPN and High Stakes Poker, was the youngest of 10 children. They were a very poor family in Romania and lived in a house smaller than my bedroom. At a young age, my mother learned how to experience love by being in service. Since she was the youngest and shortest, she was the only one small enough to crawl under the fence across the street where the hens would lay eggs. When she heard the cock a doodle do, she would sneak under the fence, grab an egg or two, and feed the family. She wasn't even 4 years old at the time, but it set the tone for the kind of woman she would become.

Nothing made my mother happier than watching people eat one of the feasts she prepared. If you came to the house, she would always ask if you were hungry, but it didn't matter if you said yes, no, or maybe a little, she was going to feed you! My mother was a great cook and her dinner parties at our house were legendary. 7 to 11 course meals!

My mother, before having me and my brother, had 9 miscarriages. 5 boys and 4 girls didn't make it, including triplet girls and twin boys. She spoiled me and my brother so much, partly I think because she cherished us so much after all she had been through to have us. All those pregnancies took a toll on her weight and she wasn't one to exercise.

My mother quit smoking when I was a teenager. She went from a 2 pack a day habit to quitting cold turkey! I was extremely proud of her for doing that. Later in her life she spent a lot more time in Las Vegas. I bought her a house 5 minutes down the road so she could still cook for me and do my laundry. I never asked her too, but she was my Mommy and she was going to do it anyway! To her, I was, and always would be her baby.

From about 60 on I would say that my mother really did make an effort to be healthy. She was limited in what she could do exercise wise because of a broken leg and the fact that she couldn't swim, but she still made an effort by going to the mall and walking around.

Truth is, she really didn't know what healthy looked like. Most people from that generation weren't given the opportunity to really know much about nutrition and what is actually good for the body or not. My mom would always have a beer with lunch and I remember the first time I told her that beer is quite fattening she looked at me like I was crazy! How could liquid be fattening she said! She was adorable.

As much as my mother made efforts to improve her health, ultimately she died of a stroke at age 70. She had a smaller stroke in Las Vegas and seemed to be recovering, but the doctors informed us that they needed to remove some blood clots otherwise she would likely have a bigger stroke. They warned us it was a high risk surgery, and during that surgery she had a stroke that paralyzed her left side, and she never spoke another word for the rest of her life. The last 8 months of her life were spent in a hospital bed, unable to eat food or drink water, unable to speak or move any part of her left side. That wasn't living, and finally God showed mercy on her soul and took her in her sleep.

I share this story with you to give you a sense of why, for me, health is such a top priority. Like anyone who misses a parent, I wish my father could have been alive to see me win my first WSOP bracelet. I wish my mother could have been there at my Hall of Fame induction. As I said before, I had the most perfect childhood a kid could dream of. My only regret, or thing that I wish I could have changed, was that my parents took their health more seriously so they could still be around today.

If you ask older people what they wish they would have done differently in their life, living a healthier lifestyle is right up there. It's not something we can truly understand until we age, but I think it's wise to listen to our elders like Doyle Brunson and others when they share this knowledge with you. It's never too early to start caring about your health, but it can get to the point where it's too late.

So what does living a healthy lifestyle entail? Eating brussel sprouts and carrots while drinking only coconut water? No, a healthy diet and exercise seems to make the most sense, and the definition of both those things varies from person to person. Science has come a long way in terms of nutrition, but it is far from solved. What seems to have been proven, is that different body and blood types do best on different diets. So what works for one person, isn't necessarily the ideal diet for another.

Personally, I choose a vegan diet and I think that works for me. I'm open to being wrong, and that another diet may be even better for me, but I feel great and the doctors I see all say I'm extremely healthy.

This blog isn't about telling you to become a vegan. Not at all. I don't think eating McDonalds occasionally as a treat will kill you, but if you are eating junk food regularly then I think it's pretty clear that it will have long term effects on your health, and ultimately your happiness.

In addition to diet, you can read a varied amount of studies on how exercise actually releases endorphins in your brain that make you happier! In one book I read called The 8th Habit by Steven Covey, he explains that while there is 168 hours in a week, if you spend just 1.5 hours of that week doing some form of exercise, it improves the quality of those other 166.5 hours you aren't exercising. It makes you happier AND more productive!

Lots of people say they don't have time, but they are looking at it the wrong way. You don't need to spend 4-6 hours a day in the gym to be healthy. It takes 2 minutes to do 10 burpees and another 30 seconds to do 20 pushups. Do that once a day and you will likely find time to do more as you crave the high you feel after exercising. That mini routine isn't easy by the way! 10 burpees will get your heart rate up there in a hurry!

Some of you reading this are mothers or fathers and you love your kids so much that they are your priority. I don't have kids myself, so I can only imagine how strong that bond is for you and how important it is to you that your kids live a happy life. A bond so strong that you may say to yourself, "I work hard so my kids can have a good future. I don't have time to worry about my health, because I live for my kids."

That's admirable, but as Carl Gustav Jung once said, "Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent."

As a parent, you are a role model for your children and the choices you make will dictate their own when they grow up. What do you want for your kids future? Do you want them to be healthy, fit, happy, and fulfilled? What example are you setting for them to help guide them down that path? If you are not healthy, and aren't making an effort to exercise or eat better, than why would you expect your children to live any differently?

So that statement I have heard from many parents, "I don't have time to worry about my own health, I need to work hard so my kids have a better life," I would challenge. I would suggest that you owe it to your kids to set an example for them so they are guided down the path you want for them.

As I shared previously, this issue really hits home for me and I don't think it's funny. You can be on #TeamBacon if you choose to. I'm not trying to be a stickler here and suggest that you can't enjoy eating whatever you want at times, but if you are not living a health conscious life and you are a parent, just be aware of the message you are sending your children. If you want your kids to live a happy, healthy life, then I think it just makes sense that you show them how by example.

I will leave this blog with an invitation for those that want to make an effort to improve their health: today think of at least one way you can improve your diet and one small form of exercise you can do daily. You can pick from this list if you like:

Quit smoking
Cut out soda
Cut down on sugar
Eat less fast food
Drink alcohol less often
Eat more greens and veggies

Do 10 burpees (start at 5 if it's too hard then work your way up)
Do Push-Ups
Go for a walk
Go for a jog
Do an exercise video
Try Yoga

Or come up with something on your own. Stay consistent with it, and you may find that it starts you down a path where you want to do more and more.

"A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step." -Laozi
"Just Do it!!!" -Nike
Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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