There’s an often repeated saying that in order to perform at your best, you need to “Get Your Head in the Game,” and for Maurice Ashley, this couldn’t be truer.

As the first-ever African-American chess grandmaster and now a highly successful author, Ashley tells M&F that chess hasn’t just improved his mind, but it’s also done wonders for his body. Here’s why you should consider taking advantage.

“Chess teaches you that your mindset is everything,” explains Ashley, who earned the title of Grandmaster in 1990 for his outstanding performance in the game. “The quality of your thinking determines who you are and what you will be willing to do, to be successful. Chess also humbles you because it’s impossible to just learn a few secrets and think you will be a good player. It takes years of patience, focus, resilience, and especially consistency. Just like working out, you don’t jump from one level to the next by simply willing it to be so. You have to take it one step at a time, make incremental gains, and embrace the plateau when you are not seeing immediate visible results. We all know these truths, but it’s easy to be distracted in a world that is perpetually showing you shortcuts and gimmicks. Your most powerful muscle is your mind, and so you have to make mental training a part of your normal routine.”

According to research, chess players live around 8 years longer on average than the general population. And, elite chess players live up to 14 years longer. But even more surprising is the fact that this superior longevity is also seen when comparing chess players with Olympic athletes.

Maurice Ashley is able to use his opponents energy against them

“Everyone has their own way of training for focus,” says Ashley, who is spreading the important message of chess in a beginners guide titled The Life-Changing Magic of Chess and a book of life lessons on and off the chess board called Move By Move.

“For me, the martial art of Aikido trained me to still my mind and use my opponent’s energy against them. Nowadays, I don’t play so much chess, but I still train like I do. I like riding my bike or lifting weights without music, so that I can be more in tune with the sounds of the experience. I want to feel the wind whistling in my ears when I ride or hear the clanging of the weights all around me in the gym. It’s like listening to music when you dance. Full immersion makes me more focused. Anything that adds that mental edge will make you more ready than the competition when the moment arrives to perform.”

Whether you are an accomplished athlete looking for that final piece, or someone who needs to get back on your fitness journey, smashing the sedentary lifestyle is a battle that even chess Grandmasters understand. Hours spent seated, contemplating each move, may look untaxing to the body, but chess actually requires both mental and physical stamina. Ashley has been able work both his body and mind in synergy, in order to stay match ready.

“I come from a family of athletes,” says the Grandmaster, who was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica, and now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “My dad was a dancer, my brothers were martial artists, and my baby sister ended up being a world champion boxer. I played a lot of different sports for fun as a kid, but I got into working out at the gym in my 20’s as a consistent way to stay fit. I knew about the importance of physical fitness and stamina for chess excellence, but I honestly did it mainly because I loved it. I could have been a fitness trainer in another life.”

Chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley rowing

Maurice Ashley wants you to enter the life changing world of chess

“Studying chess in my youth at home in Brownsville, Brooklyn, every night was like traveling in time and space to a world where epic battles between legendary grandmasters would unfold before my teenage eyes,” shares Ashley. “I was poring over chess books trying to crack a code that few people around me could even imagine existed. While most of my friends hoped to be famous athletes and musicians, I was dreaming about traveling the world playing in exciting chess tournaments. Now, looking back, it’s incredible that I got to live a life even beyond my own dreams. The game of chess literally changed the trajectory of who I would become, and it could for you too.”

Maurice Ashley’s two new books are The Life-Changing Magic of Chess and Move by Move and both are available to pre-order now.

Follow the chess Grandmaster on Instagram