Pop-Eye's been necking back cans of spinach since 1929, but scientists have now confirmed that eating one cup of leafy greens — including the fictional sailor's greenery of choice — is enough to boost muscle function by up to 11%.
As part of the study, researchers from Australia's Edith Cowan University examined the relationship between leafy green vegetables and improved muscle function, in the hope of encouraging people to add the ingredients to their daily diet.
By examining lower-limb strength, diets and walking speeds of 3759 participants over a 12-year period, the researchers found that participants with a higher nitrate consumption had greater strength in their lower limbs, with some participants logging an 11% difference to those without.
"Our study has shown that diets high in nitrate-rich vegetables may bolster your muscle strength independently of any physical activity," said Dr Marc Sim, who led the study. "Nevertheless, to optimise muscle function we propose that a balanced diet rich in green leafy vegetables in combination with regular exercise, including weight training, is ideal." (Continued below)
It's thought that the nitrate content in the leafy green vegetables could lead to vasodilation – or the widening blood vessels – allowing additional blood flow to your muscles. "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," Dr Sim confirmed. "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."
"We should be eating a variety of vegetables every day, with at least one of those serves being leafy greens to gain a range of positive health benefits for the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular system."
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