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Intermittent Fasting: Is it Safe for Seniors? Potential Risks and Benefits

Intermittent fasting, an increasingly popular trend among health enthusiasts, is a diet regimen that cycles between brief periods of significant calorie reduction and periods of unrestricted eating.

According to study results published by the Harvard Medical School, intermittent fasting “can be a particularly effective approach to weight loss, especially for people at risk for diabetes,” among a host of other health benefits.

But is intermittent fasting safe for seniors? Here’s what you need to know.

Health benefits of intermittent fasting for seniors

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine describes an array of health benefits to intermittent fasting. This includes improvements in study participants with the following medical conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Cancers
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Ischemic injuries, or those caused by absent or diminished blood flow
  • Neurological disorders
  • Obesity

However, most people use intermittent fasting as a form of weight loss, whether or not they’re clinically obese. It works like this: fasting reduces blood sugar levels, leading the body to utilize fat as an energy source instead.

In animals, regular fasting has been linked with not only weight loss but lower heart rate, blood pressure, insulin levels and levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). It’s also been linked with reduced inflammation as well as higher levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). One study even found a correlation between fasting and reduced breast cancer risk.

Intermittent fasting is also known to reset the circadian rhythms, or body clock, that regulate so many of our daily functions, such as sleep, appetite, body temperature, and mood.

Furthermore, research has suggested positive effects of intermittent fasting on mental functioning. More specifically, studies have recognized improvements to working, associative and spatial memory.

Also shown to improve from intermittent fasting is physical performance involving coordination and balance. Researchers are studying how intermittent fasting may affect areas in which adequate medication is not yet available as a solution, such as in physical problems like frailty and the development of neurodegenerative concerns.

Recent research out of Harvard University suggests intermittent fasting may permit the mitochondria of the body’s cells–the engines of energy production–to produce that energy more efficiently, thereby maintaining a more youthful condition. In animals, it has been associated with longer lifespans. University of Florida research has found it may even slow the process of aging in humans.

Safety of intermittent fasting for seniors

Intermittent fasting is considered safe for older adults as long as several conditions are met. The person must be well-hydrated throughout the fasting period and must eat a healthy, balanced diet whenever they’re not fasting.

Even given that, however, it is always wise to consult with your doctor or other trusted healthcare professional prior to trying intermittent fasting or any other new health regimen or diet. This is especially the case if you’re a senior.

Your doctor will review your entire medical history to help you decide whether it’s safe for you to try intermittent fasting and, if so, which plan could help you meet your goals the best.  Your doctor can also advise you of the effects intermittent fasting may have on certain other medical conditions you have or treatments you’re receiving.

Tips for intermittent fasting as a senior

Once your doctor has given you the go-ahead to start an intermittent fasting routine, there are certain steps you can take to make sure you do it the most effectively and safely possible.

Most importantly, start slowly. Don’t try to push yourself to fast too much too quickly – ease into it. For instance, reduce the time window in which you can eat normally slowly and incrementally over a reasonable and realistic length of time.

There are several approaches to intermittent fasting, the following three being among the most popular:

  • Alternate-day fasting

With alternate-day fasting, you eat regularly every other day. On alternate days, you eat only 25 percent of your normal caloric intake and you do it all in only one meal.

  • The 5:2 approach

With this method, you eat regularly for five consecutive days. Then, for each of the next two consecutive days, you eat only 400 to 500 calories.

  • The 16:8 approach

With this method, you follow the same routine each and every day. You fast for 16 consecutive hours, then you eat regularly over the next eight consecutive hours.

No matter which approach you choose, remember to proceed gradually. Unless your doctor has advised you otherwise, also make sure to continue taking all your medications as prescribed while you fast. If you need to take certain ones with food, you may need to coordinate your fasting plan around your medication schedule or adjust your medication schedule around your new fasting plan.

The professional care team at The Oaks at Denville’s Life Plan Community is dedicated to helping residents lead lives of purpose, engage in the here and now, and feel joy no matter where they may be in the aging process. Contact us to schedule a visit today.

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