It is well known that physical activity has positive effects on the brain, particularly in later life. Recent research has found that it may be possible to bolster these effects, simply by drinking beetroot juice before exercising.
Researchers suggest that drinking beetroot before exercising may aid brain performance for older adults. They found that older adults who consumed beetroot juice prior to engaging in moderately intense exercise demonstrated greater connectivity in brain regions associated with motor function, compared with adults who did not drink beetroot juice before exercising.
Beetroot is a dark red vegetable with an acquired taste that has been linked with better stamina, improved blood flow and lower blood pressure. It contains potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A, B6 and C, folic acid, carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants and soluble fibre. Drinking beetroot juice increases blood flow to the brain in older people, which may be able to fight the progression of dementia, a 2010 study suggested. In recent years, beetroot has gained popularity for its potential health benefits, which include reduced blood pressure and increased exercise performance. Such benefits have been attributed to the high nitrate content in beetroot. When consumed, nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, which studies have shown can lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain.
The study comprised 26 participants, aged 55 years and older, who had high blood pressure. None of the participants engaged in regular exercise, and they were taking up to two medications to help lower their blood pressure. All subjects were required to engage in 50 minutes of moderately intense exercise on a treadmill three times per week for 6 weeks. One hour before each session, half of the participants consumed a beetroot juice supplement containing 560 milligrams of nitrate, while the remaining participants consumed a placebo low in nitrates.
At the end of the 6 weeks, the researchers measured participants' brain functioning using MRI and found that subjects who consumed the beetroot juice supplement prior to exercising demonstrated a structurally stronger somatomotor cortex - a brain region that helps to control body movement - compared with participants who consumed the placebo.
Furthermore, subjects who drank the beetroot juice supplement also showed greater connectivity between the somatomotor cortex and the insular cortex, a brain region associated with motor control, cognitive functioning, emotion, and other brain functions. Such connectivity is usually seen in the brains of younger individuals, the team notes.
The researchers explain that the somatomotor cortex receives and processes signals from the muscles. As such, physical activity should strengthen this process.
They suggest that beetroot juice strengthens the somatomotor cortex further through its nitrate content; its conversion into nitric oxide boosts the delivery of oxygen to the brain.
While further research is required to replicate their results, the researchers believe that their study suggests that what we eat in later life may play an important role in brain health and mobility.
With Inputs from Medical News Today