Beetroot’s ‘anti-ageing’ effects on brain noted in post-exercise study

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Multiple studies have shown the nitric oxide prodcution that beetroot can promote improves exercise performance in people of various ages.©iStock/Zeleno
Multiple studies have shown the nitric oxide prodcution that beetroot can promote improves exercise performance in people of various ages.©iStock/Zeleno

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Beetroot juice supplementation could improve cognitive function in older people as study results showed an enhanced ability by the brain to form new neural connections.

A combination of exercise and beetroot juice seemed to set in motion changes in the participant’s cognitive make up, specifically in the motor cortex and the insula, which support mobility.

“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,” ​said study author Dr W. Jack Rejeski, professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, US. 

elderly exercise ageing muscle older iStock Ammentorp Photography
Trials that featured elderly adults supplemented with beetroot juice found an improvement in motor and cognitive skills.©iStock/Ammentorp Photography

The study enrolled 26 men and women aged 55 and older. These adults did not normally exercise and took medication for high blood pressure.

A beetroot juice supplement (Beet It Sport Shots) was given to them three times a week for six weeks, one hour before carrying out a 50-minute walk on a treadmill.

Half the participants drank beetroot juice containing 560 milligrams (mg) of nitrate. The other half received a placebo that contained very little nitrate.

Results suggested that motor functions were significantly enhanced in the exercise and beetroot juice group.

In addition, differences in second-order connections between the somatomotor cortex and insular cortex were also significant. The exercise and beetroot juice group exhibited a lower number of connections when compared to the placebo group.

“Evaluation of peak MET capacity (a measure of the amount of oxygen used during a specific physical activity) revealed a trend for the exercise and BRJ group to have higher MET capacity following the intervention,”​ the study noted.

Health benefits of beetroot

The health-enhancing properties of beetroot juice  have been well-documented with numerous studies pointing to the vegetable’s high level of dietary nitrate. This is converted to nitrite and then nitric oxide (NO) when consumed.

NO increases blood flow in the body, and multiple studies have shown it can improve exercise performance in people of various ages.

Beetroot juice may also exert some of its benefits on cardiovascular complications after reports​linking beetroot-enriched bread could help to lower heart disease risk by reducing blood pressure and improving blood vessel functioning.

Likewise, its effects on sporting performance have been noted with significant gains in muscle recovery​, aerobic fitness​and sprinting​ attributed to beetroot’s nutrient profile.

Source: Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences

Published online ahead of print:

“Beet Root Juice: An Ergogenic Aid for Exercise and the Aging Brain.”

Authors: Meredith Petrie, W. Jack Rejeski, Swati Basu, Paul Laurienti, Anthony Marsh, James L. Norris, Daniel Kim-Shapiro, Jonathan H. Burdette.

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