I am often asked about diet and eating, and how nutrition and exercise interact to improve both health and performance as we age. One question I have had recently is about fasting, so I thought I would discuss fasting and some of its benefits.
Fasting can be for short periods, such as skipping breakfast or a couple of meals through to a longer fast of a few days. Fasting isn't for everyone but more people are considering it as part of their normal routine.
Here are some of the benefits I have uncovered.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Fasting has shown to have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, allowing you to tolerate carbohydrates (sugar) better. A study showed that after periods of fasting, insulin becomes more effective in telling cells to take glucose in from the blood.
Intermittent fasting gives your digestive system a rest, and this can stimulate your metabolism to burn calories more efficiently. If your digestion is poor, this can effect your ability to metabolise food and burn fat. Intermittent fasts can regulate your digestion and promote healthy bowel function, thus improving your metabolic function.
Studies have shown how the lifespan of people in some countries is increased due to their diets and in particular having reduced food intake. One of the primary effects of ageing is a slower metabolism, the younger your body is, the faster and more efficient your metabolism. It is believed that the less you eat, the less toll it takes on your digestive and metabolic systems so they age more slowly.
Helps Weight Loss
Fasting can be a safe way to lose weight as many studies have shown that intermittent fasting - fasting that is controlled within a set number of hours - allows the body to burn fat more effectively than just regular dieting. Intermittent fasting allows the body to use fat as it's primary source of energy instead of sugar..
Fasting helps to regulate the hormones in your body so that you experience what true hunger is. We know that some overweight and obese people do not get the correct signals to let them know they are full. Fasting acts like a reset button: the longer you fast, the more your body can regulate itself to release the correct hormones , so that you can experience what real hunger is. Not to mention, when your hormones are working correctly, you get full quicker.
Improves Your Eating Patterns
Fasting can be a helpful practice for those who suffer with binge eating disorders, and for those who find it difficult to establish a correct eating pattern due to work and other priorities. Intermittent fasting might mean going for a full work shift without eating and then allow you to eat at a set time that fits your lifestyle.
Improves Your Brain Function
Fasting has shown to improve brain, because it boosts the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF.) BDNF activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, and triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health. This protein also protects your brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Improves Your Immune System
Intermittent fasting improves the immune system because it reduces free radical damage, regulates inflammatory conditions in the body and starves off cancer cell formation. In nature, when animals get sick they stop eating and instead focus on resting. This is a natural instinct to reduce stress on their internal system so their body can fight off infection. Humans are the only species who look for food when we are ill, even when we do not need it.
So there are a number of benefits of fasting. While it isn't for everyone, there is increasing evidence that it helps in a number of chronic conditions and in preventing poor health and ageing. Best of all, those people who have introduced fasting into their life say they actually feel good while fasting and it helps them eat better when they are not fasting.
If you haven't tried it, it might be worth considering. And if you'd like an assessment of your current metabolism before you try fasting let me know. An initial test and a follow-up some time later will show you how fasting has affected your metabolism.
Article Author: David Beard, Calico Calico Exercise Physiologist & Healthy Aging Expert