WINSTON-SALEM, N. C. — It doesn’t sound appealing, but choking down a glass of beetroot juice before you exercise could help an aging brain work as well as one far younger, a recent study found.
Researchers at Wake Forest University say that giving older adults beetroot juice prior to a workout may improve brain connectivity and efficiency, showing that the foods we eat as we age have a big impact on how important organs like the brain decline or improve over time.
It’s already scientifically proven that exercise has a positive effect on the brain, especially as we get older and start to encounter cognitive issues. Exercise has been shown to improve brain functionality and counter common hazards of old age, including short-term memory loss and more serious cognitive issues.
The study authors looked at adding the power of beets to a workout regimen because they contain high amounts of dietary nitrate, which metabolizes into nitrite and then nitric oxide (NO) in the body and helps with circulation. Prior studies have indicated NO can be beneficial when it comes to exercise performance.
“Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule,” says Professor W. Jack Rejeski, co-author of the study and director of the Behavioral Medicine Laboratory at Wake Forest, in a news release. “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.”
Rejeski and his team tested 26 men and women at least 55 years old who did not exercise regularly, had high blood pressure, and took a maximum of two medications for the condition. Half of the individuals were given a beetroot juice supplement called Beet-It Sport Shot an hour before a 55-minute, moderately intense walk on a treadmill three times a week for six weeks. The other half performed the same exercise routine, but were given a placebo beetroot juice supplement that contained very little nitrate.
Rejeski and his team found that the participants who drank the nutrient-rich beetroot juice had higher levels of nitrate and nitrite in the blood than the placebo group, stimulating better oxygen flow to the brain.
“What we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beet root juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults,” says Rejeski.
The authors say future research is needed to replicate the results and extend on the findings.
The full study was published in the peer-reviewed publication Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.