In these pandemic times, there’s been a massive upswing in people’s interest in exercise to support their immune, cardio and respiratory health. With gyms being closed in most areas over the past few months, it’s no wonder that online sales of things like weight training equipment and bicycles have skyrocketed.
There’s also been a very noticeable increase in people jogging –and what’s not to like? It’s free, outdoors, accessible and reduces your stress while improving numerous measures of health. There are also plenty of low impact options (biking, swimming, walking) when it comes to aerobic exercise if running isn’t your thing.
Heart health and lung health are intimately connected. Your heart and lungs work together to provide oxygenated blood throughout the body to power you through activities like aerobic exercise. When it comes to dietary supplements, hawthorn and red beet juice are two that are especially good at supporting the health of these two systems.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) has been called a “cardio tonic” as it is able to gradually strengthen and economize many heart functions. The flowers, leaves and berries are all used medicinally and have a fantastic history of safety and effectiveness for heart health.
Hawthorn increases the force of heart muscle contractions, increases coronary blood flow, reduces the oxygen demands of the heart, protects against heart damage, and protects against heart arrhythmias. Hawthorn is also able to strengthen and protect blood vessels from oxidative damage and plaque buildup.
Improved blood flow translates into a heart that doesn’t need to work as hard, tissues and organs and cells receive the nutrients they need, and there is an overall improvement in energy levels. Relaxing blood vessels for better circulation and reducing the oxygen demands of the heart translate well into benefits for aerobic/cardio exercise. Hawthorn has also been shown to support the body’s production of nitric oxide.
Red Beets and Nitric Oxide
Red beets are a great source of dietary nitrates. Nitrates are broken down by bacteria in saliva and stomach acid into nitrites, which then turn into nitric oxide in the body. This process can take 2-3 hours and is supported by iron, vitamin C and polyphenols like grape seed extract.
Nitric oxide helps in exercise and workouts by causing vasodilation: blood vessels relax, blood pressure normalizes, and tissue perfusion of oxygen and nutrients improves. Nitric oxide also plays a role in mitochondrial biogenesis (the process by which cells increase their individual mitochondrial mass and number to increase the production of ATP as a response to greater energy expenditure).
Nitric oxide lasts in the body for just a very short burst –it has a half-life of only a few seconds. When activated, it can go down three pathways: causing the vasodilation mentioned above (great for heart health, exercise, and general cardiovascular and respiratory health), going into short term storage, or metabolized as a waste product (antioxidants can help prevent this last one from happening).
Studies show that red beet juice helps with increased exercise tolerance and muscle performance, increased tissue oxygenation/peak oxygen intake (VO2max) and decreased blood pressure compared with placebo. Nitrates are thought to be a major reason for these benefits, but red beets are also a great source of antioxidants too. Salus Red Beet Crystals from Flora contain approximately 67 mg of nitrates and 70 mg of the antioxidant, red pigment betanin per 10 g serving.
Exercise and Immune Health
Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to support immune health, reduce infection rates and delay aging of the immune system.
Light to moderate intensity exercise can help immunity by reducing stress hormones, flushing microbes from the lungs and airways, improving white blood cell circulation, stimulating lymphatic flow, and raising body temperature.
Incorporating herbs like hawthorn and supplements like red beet juice into our diet supports the healthy functioning of our heart and blood vessels as well as our respiratory system, giving us that boost of momentum we need to keep up with physical activity and exercise to support immune health as well.
Flora’s Cardio·Essence™ uses hawthorn flowers, leaves and berries, along with herbs like Passionflower and Hibiscus to support cardiovascular health.
Robert Dadd is a Master Herbalist (Dominion Herbal College) with a BA in Communications from Simon Fraser University. His areas of research include adaptogens, probiotics, and essential fatty acids. He is currently the Product Information Supervisor for Flora Manufacturing and Distributing.