Many people likely think of fasting—the act of avoiding certain foods and drinks for a set period of time—as something done mostly for religious reasons or as part of a political protest. However, when done properly and safely, fasting, particularly intermittently, can also offer some great benefits that play a major part in aging well, including helping you live longer.
Intermittent fasting is a specific method of fasting that is beneficial to aging well. Unlike “traditional” fasting, where the person goes entirely without food and drink for a single length of time, intermittent fasting alternates between shorter periods of going with food and without food. This method is also easier to do for aging well because you’re not going entirely without food. It’s also less dangerous because you aren’t starving yourself long enough to cause damage to the body, making it ideal for aging well.
Intermittent fasting helps with aging well because of adaptations the human body made back during the time of our ancestors. When food wasn’t as readily available as it is now, people would go long stretches without food, forcing their bodies to adapt to alternating between times when they took in lots of food and times when they took in very little. As a result, their bodies began to adjust their insulin sensitivity as needed.
Insulin plays a large part in aging well through its relationship with intermittent fasting. Our insulin levels determine the effectiveness of hormones that regulate blood sugar, tissue repair, and how much energy from food is used and stored—in other words, it affects the risk of obesity, heart failure, and diabetes. As food is now easily available and we eat regularly throughout the day, the body is constantly sending signals that hinder those hormones, which keeps us from aging well.
Increased insulin levels also accelerate the division and creation of cells. Intermittent fasting encourages aging well by allowing the body to rejuvenate cells more efficiently and by letting certain cells live longer during times the body goes without food. This is done through genetic repair functions, which are activated by the release of human growth hormone (HGH), the opposite of insulin, which is released by intermittent fasting. HGH can improve skin, heal cuts faster, decrease inflammation, and reduce wrinkles—these are all things you want to happen for the sake of aging well.
HGH released through intermittent fasting is also known to cause changes to the body’s metabolism that help burn fat and use protein more effectively. These proteins are used to repair tissue collagen, improving the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. And as an added bonus, as the division and creation of cells increases the risk of cancer, you’re avoiding that risk by allowing your cells to regenerate, aging well instead.
Intermittent fasting restricts the amount of calories that enter the body, though how this benefits us in regards to aging well is debatable. Studies have shown that by reducing the average amount of calories consumed, usually by between 30% and 40%, a person’s life span can be extended. However, these results were only in animals; similar tests on humans and primates showed mixed results. That said, even if calorie restriction doesn’t extend one’s life span, it does require eating less. Whether as part of intermittent fasting or not, limiting food intake makes it easier to manage your weight. It also means a reduced chance of diseases that would prevent you from aging well.
While intermittent fasting is a great step towards aging well, your body may have problems adjusting to going longer periods than it’s used to without nourishment, leading to side effects that include nausea, headaches, dizziness, and insomnia. Anyone planning to attempt intermittent fasting should consult with their doctor first and have a friend or family member around to supervise their progress. Remember that aging well can’t happen if you’re forcing your body and mind to undergo something they’re just not ready for. The key to aging well is to take slow and steady steps, and work your way up.
Chaitow, L., “Fasting for Health and as an Anti-Aging Strategy,” Healthy.net web site; https://www.healthy.net/Health/Article/Fasting_for_Health_and_as_an_Anti_Aging_Strategy/496/1, last accessed October 4, 2013.
Stipp, D., “How Intermittent Fasting Might Help You Live a Longer and Healthier Life,” Scientific American web site, January 11, 2013; https://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-intermittent-fasting-might-help-you-live-longer-healthier-life.
Victor, “Alternate-day Fasting – a better alternative,” AGING SCIENCES – Anti-Aging Firewalls web site, January 14, 2012; https://www.anti-agingfirewalls.com/2012/01/14/alternate-day-fasting-%E2%80%93-a-better-alternative/.