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University of Ulster researchers have found that antioxidant-rich watercress, often labelled a super-food, can alleviate the natural stress put on our body by an exercise workout.

Though regular moderate exercise is known to be good for us, the increased demand on our bodies is also known to cause damage to our DNA.

According to a recent study from scientists at the University’s Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute (SESRI), eating watercress can prevent some of the damage caused by high intensity exercise and help maximise the benefits of a tough workout.

The study findings have recently been published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Study leader Dr Gareth Davison, who is based at SESRI at the Jordanstown campus, said: “Although we are aware of how good exercise can be for our bodies, pounding the treadmill, or lifting heavy weights can take its toll.

"The increased demand on the body for energy can create a build-up of free radicals which can damage our DNA.

“What we’ve found is that consuming a relatively small amount of watercress each day can help raise the levels of important antioxidant vitamins which may help protect our bodies, and allow us to enjoy the rewards of keeping fit.”

Ten healthy men, aged on average of 23 years, participated in the study. For eight weeks they were given 85 grams of watercress – a small bag – and asked to participate in high-level exercise on the treadmill.

An eight-week study with no watercress consumption was carried out to act as a control.

Dr Davison said: “We put participants through short bursts of intense exercise and found that those who had not eaten watercress had more DNA damage than those that consumed watercress.

"This study provides an interesting step forward in sports nutrition development and research, and the findings may be beneficial to all levels of sport performers.”