Eating Leafy Greens Can Strengthen Your Legs

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
July 07, 2021

Eating just one cup of vegetables a day, along with exercise, can increase strength in your leg muscles. Here’s how.

Eating just one cup of leafy green vegetables every day could give you stronger legs.

The research finding is especially important for older people, who are more likely to break a bone if they fall. Strong legs will allow them to exercise safely and harvest the many benefits of movement.


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Nitrates can be good for you

The conclusion comes from an analysis of data from more than 3,700 Australians over 12 years. In the study, people who ate the most nitrates, generally from vegetables, walked faster and their legs were 11 percent stronger. Nitrates are chemicals in the soil, air, and water that make their way into vegetables naturally. Beets, celery, lettuce, kale, radishes, and spinach are especially rich in nitrates.

But wait — aren’t nitrates bad for you? This is a common misunderstanding because food manufacturers add nitrates to processed meat as a preservative (and to make it pink), and processed meat isn’t your best nutrition option. In fact, eating processed meat has been linked to dementia, heart disease, and colorectal cancer. It’s not clear, however, whether the nitrates in processed meat are part of the problem. On the other hand, it’s clear that nitrates occurring naturally in food are good for you.

Why strong legs are important

You need strong muscles in your legs to keep up exercise as you age, when your pace will be a sign of your overall health. In fact, after a heart attack, your speed is a standard measure of your chances of survival over the next year. If you can walk faster than 1.8 miles an hour after the age of 65, you have better-than-average life expectancy, according to one study. At 2.7 miles an hour, your longevity may be exceptional. People who walked briskly for at least 150 minutes of a week cut their chance of dying by 20 percent in another, 13-year, study.

Besides walking, stationary cycling and water aerobics are good low-impact options to improve blood flow and leg strength. For more strength, do squats, lunges, heel raises, and other leg boosters.


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Eat greens, instead of taking supplements

"We should be eating a variety of vegetables every day, with at least one of those servings leafy greens to gain a range of positive health benefits for the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular system," Marc Sim, the lead researcher of the Australian study, told Science Daily. "It's also better to eat nitrate-rich vegetables as part of a healthy diet rather than taking supplements. Green leafy vegetables provide a whole range of essential vitamins and minerals critical for health."

There are many reasons to eat vegetables and fruit. In the largest and longest study to date, researchers followed almost 110,000 men and women over 14 years. People who ate more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day had roughly a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke, than people who ate fewer than three servings per day.

A diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits can also prevent some kinds of cancer, protect you from eye and digestive problems, and stabilize blood sugar. Eating apples, pears, and green leafy vegetables may even promote weight loss because these foods can prevent the blood sugar spikes that spark hunger.

For strong bones, your body needs calcium and vitamin D. Beyond leafy greens, your bones will benefit from milk and yogurts fortified with vitamin D and salmon and tuna.


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July 07, 2021

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN