It looks like it might be worthwhile to follow in the footsteps of Popeye, and start eating our spinach, especially as we age. A recent study has found that eating just one cup of leafy green vegetables like spinach or kale may help maintain muscle strength as well as mobility into old age.
Spinach or kale may help maintain muscle strength & mobility into old age
The research was conducted at Edith Cowan University and tracked the diets of 1420 Australian women over the age of 70. The study saw that individuals who ate more nitrate-rich vegetables like spinach, kale, swiss chard or lettuce displayed better muscle strength as well as physical function.
How muscle strength was measured
Muscle strength was measured by assessing participants grip strength, and physical function was measured by a test that requires individuals to get up out of chair, walk three meters and then return to the chair; the test is timed. Lead researcher Dr. Marc Sim from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences said a decline in muscle strength and physical function are associated with greater risk of disability and even premature death. Previous research in older populations has shown that a 1 kg decline over 12 months in grip strength is associated with a 33 per cent increased mortality risk.
“Poor strength and function are also associated with other adverse outcomes such as falls and fractures, which substantially compromise an individual’s independence,” he said.
Nitrate and blood flow
“In our study we found that eating one cup of spinach, rocket or lettuce a day may increase grip strength by up to 2 kg and improve TUG time by up to 1.6 seconds.”
The reason why leafy greens would help maintain muscle strength is not definitively known, however Dr. Sim mentions blood flow as a possible mechanism. Leafy green vegetables are rich in nitrates, which are known to improve vascular function and blood flow. As blood flow increases muscle health generally follows.
“We know from previous research that nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which means that it widens your blood vessels, potentially allowing greater blood flow to your muscles. In fact, nitrate supplements are used by athletes to improve endurance and performance.
“It could be that higher daily nitrate intake consistently increases muscle blood flow, thereby facilitating musculoskeletal health,” he said.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.