Researchers have found that, as usual, what’s good for the body may also be good for the mind: a study published in the Journals of Gerontology has demonstrated that, in older adults, beet root juice before exercise may boost brain performance. The six-week randomized trial included 26 older adults with an average age of 65 who didn’t exercise and had high blood pressure. Researchers divided the participants into a beet root juice group, who received a high-nitrate beet root juice containing 560 mg of nitrates, and a placebo group, who received the same drink with almost all of the nitrates removed. Three times a week for six weeks, both groups took a moderately intense, 50-minute treadmill walk after drinking their respective drinks. When researchers measured the participants’ brain activity, they found that:
- Compared with the placebo group, the beet root juice group had increased nerve connections within the somatomotor cortex—an area of the brain that processes sensory information from the muscles—and fewer connections between the somatomotor cortex and another region of the brain called the insular cortex, which participates in a wide array of functions including motor control and mobility.
- Compared with the placebo group, this pattern of nerve connections in the high-nitrate beet root juice group looked more like that of younger adults.
So, why do beets aid the brain? The researchers believe that, while exercise alone should strengthen brain networks in the somatomotor cortex, the nitrates in beet root juice increase the benefits by really getting juices flowing—that is, blood and oxygen—to the brain.