Drinking beetroot juice before working out makes the brains of older adults with high blood pressure perform like younger brains, says a study from Wake Forest University.
"We knew, going in, that a number of studies had shown that exercise has positive effects on the brain," said study co-author W. Jack Rejeski. "But what we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beetroot juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults."
Beets contain a high level of dietary nitrate, which is converted to nitrite and then nitric oxide (NO) in the body. NO increases blood flow in the body, and multiple studies have shown it can improve exercise performance in people of various ages.
The study included 26 men and women age 55 and older who did not exercise, had high blood pressure, and took no more than two medications for high blood pressure. They drank a beetroot juice supplement called Beet-It Sport Shot one hour before a moderately intense, 50-minute walk on a treadmill.
Half the participants received Beet-It containing 560 mg of nitrate; the others received a placebo Beet-It with very little nitrate.
When you exercise, the brain's somatomotor cortex, which processes information from the muscles, evaluates and sorts the cues coming in from the body. Experts believe that exercise strengthens the somatomotor cortex.
So, combining beetroot juice with exercise delivers even more oxygen to the brain and creates an environment for strengthening the somatomotor cortex.
After exercising, researchers found that although both groups had similar levels of nitrate and nitrite in the blood before drinking the juice, the beetroot juice group had much higher levels of nitrate and nitrite than the placebo group.
"Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule," said Rejeski. "It goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic, or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body."
The study was published in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.
Other studies have also shown the benefits of beetroot juice. Scientists at the U.K.'s University of Reading found that beetroot juice — even in small doses — could be the key to preventing hypertension.
Drinking only 3.5 ounces of beetroot juice lowered blood pressure significantly in minutes, and the effects lasted as long as 13 hours.
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