Exercise benefits our bodies in many ways but there is one thing you may want to be concerned with: oxidative stress. In case you were thinking this post was a ticket to skip your workout today let me be clear, it is not. Our bodies experience some level of oxidative stress all day long during normal bodily functions like digesting food. Putting additional stress on our body through exercise increases this effect. In fact, ultramarathon runners show evidence of DNA damage several weeks after finishing a race. However, this phenomenon is not limited to endurance athletes. Just 5 minutes of intense cycling (think spin class) creates an increase in DNA damage.
Before you get too worried remember oxidation is a normal human process. It only becomes a problem when we don’t consume enough antioxidant rich foods to get us back to baseline or, in the best case scenario, maintain an oxidative surplus. And most Americans do not.
On average, plant foods contain more than 64x the antioxidant content of animal foods. Hence, a diet rich in plant foods can help us stay out of oxidative debt and prevent the DNA damage that contributes to disease and aging. One study proved that simply consuming a serving of watercress 2 hours before exercise not only blunts the damage but actually puts the exerciser in a better place then where they began!
You may be asking yourself if consuming watercress has such a positive effect on reducing DNA damage wouldn’t encapsulating antioxidants in a pill be a better option? The answer is no. In studies where antioxidants were isolated, there was actually an increase in oxidative damage. Truly, the whole seems to be greater than the sum of it’s parts.
If you want to learn more here is the video that inspired this post: