Like most people, you probably got into Intermittent Fasting to lose a couple of pounds. And assuming you managed to stick with your plan for more than a few weeks, that’s exactly what happened.
If you paid close attention you probably noticed other positive side effects too. More energy, better appetite control or maybe deeper sleep or an improved ability to focus at work. And science is showing that the benefits go deeper still. In fact fasting has been shown to improve our healthy life span. So how on earth does it do all that?
Let's start with weight loss. Excess weight and excess calorie consumption are linked to a shorter lifespan. Intermittent fasting and other types of fasting help improve both issues by giving your body a break from the almost constant eating typical in the UK. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack is a regime familiar to a lot of us. Fasting can help you lose excess weight and put you back in touch with what feeling hungry actually feels like so you can start to eat more mindfully.
Another key factor is Intermittent Fasting’s ability to improve insulin sensitivity. Many of us have a degree of insulin resistance due to our almost constant eating and/or constant stress from our busy lifestyles and/or getting older. All factors that can play havoc with our weight. Periods of fasting helps to redress this imbalance by giving the body a bit of a break from this constant barrage of insulin. This allows the cells to become more sensitive to insulin so insulin can perform its job properly at normal levels once again.
Increasing your sensitivity to insulin and practicing fasting can also help improve your metabolic flexibility. Metabolic flexibility is the body’s ability to switch from one energy source to another seamlessly as needs dictate. This switching proficiency helps you maintain energy levels, reduce cravings and tap into your fat stores for fuel.
So how does it improve your healthy life span? We know being overweight and having insulin resistance shortens life span but there is more to it than that. When you fast, you are also giving your body a chance to repair itself at a cellular level.
We know that modern living – eating too much, too much stress, living longer – is resulting in higher incidences of lifestyle related chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer to name but a few. Science is revealing that one part of the picture could be that we spend too much time in growth mode. A tendency towards growth mode rather than repair mode used to give us an evolutionary advantage that suited a hunter gather life but this is not the case with a modern lifestyle. Once we are fully grown adults, being in almost constant growth mode is associated with accelerated ageing. A key pathway rather snappily called mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR for short) is the master regulator for cell growth and proliferation. It is switched on by continual or over eating, insulin and environmental cues such as stress. Fasting is one way to switch off this growth pathway.
By switching mTOR off the body responds by allocating resources for maintenance and repair instead of growth. This triggers lots of processes that give the body a spring clean of sorts. The current buzzword in fasting news is autophagy (pronounced ort-off-a-gee) which is one such process whereby the body recycles unnecessary or damaged cells or bits of cells. This process goes hand-in-hand with apoptosis which kills off old or damaged cells. Together and with other complementary processes, this helps readdress the balance of growth and repair which in turn helps us age better.
So if you want to live better for longer, stick with your chosen fasting regime. We know it’s not the easiest practice in the world (which is why we created Fasting+) but the benefits speak for themselves. A long life should be a healthy life and fasting is just a bit of insurance to give us a better chance of achieving that.