As tends come and go in the fitness industry, there are some that stand the test of time. Fasting is one off them. It has been practiced for centuries in different cultures through spiritual practices. If fasting didn’t have any value, it would not be still used today. Unfortunately, the fitness industry has a tendency of taking something great and over popularizing it and it begins to lose its value. Fasting has shown to reduce insulin resistance, decrease chronic inflammation, improve heart health help build muscle and even aide in weight loss. We will dive into each of these so you can make an informed decision on whether fasting is right for you.
Reduces Insulin Resistance
Studies have shown that fasting can have a positive impact on blood sugar control which great news when it comes to reducing risk of diabetes. In study that looked at a group with type 2 diabetes, it was found that short-term intermittent fasting significantly decreased blood sugar levels. Other studies found that both intermittent fasting and alternate-day fasting were as effective as limiting calories at reducing insulin resistance. By decreasing insulin resistance, the body becomes more sensitive to insulin which allows the transport of glucose (sugar) from the blood stream to the cells to be more efficient. Couple this with potential blood sugar lowering effect of fasting, this could help keep blood sugar steady and prevent spikes and crashes of your blood sugar levels.
Decreases Chronic Inflammation
Acute inflammation is a normal immune response that your body utilizes to fight off infection or help repair damage tissue that occurs with an injury. This is why an area will swell when you get a spider bite or your ankle will swell when you sprain it. Systemic inflammation on the other hand occurs throughout the body and if it becomes chronic (long lasting), it can have serious consequences for your health. Studies have shown that inflammation may be involved in the development of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. There are studies that found that fasting can help decrease levels of systemic inflammation which promotes better health.
May Improves Heart Health
Heart disease is considered the leading cause of death around the world and accounts for about 32% of deaths globally. But there is a solution! A simple change in diet and lifestyle (i.e. exercising regularly) can dramatically decrease your risk of heart disease. There have been some studies that have shown that incorporating fasting into your routine may be especially beneficial for a healthy heart. One study found that eight weeks of alternating days of fasting reduces levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and blood triglycerides by 25% and 32% respectively.
May Improve Brain Function
Though research in humans is limited, animal models have shown that intermittent fasting can provide benefits in brain health and function. In one animal study, it was reported that fasting could protect the brain and increase the generation of new nerve cells to help enhance cognitive functions. Also, since fasting may also help relieve inflammation, it could also assist in preventing neurodegenerative disorders. This is suggested in animal studies that fasting may protect and even improve outcomes of conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Though these findings are in animal models, more research must be done in human studies, but this does provide some insight on some potential benefits on brain health and function in humans.
Can Help Build Muscle
Human growth hormone (HGH) is the key hormone in the metabolism, weight loss and strength. Studies have shown that fasting could naturally increase HGH in the blood. Fasting has also show to help maintain healthy blood sugar and insulin levels which many further optimize HGH levels while sustaining increased levels of insulin may actually reduce HGH levels.
Aides in Weight Loss
I want to put a disclaimer in this section before we jump into the benefits of fasting for weight loss. If you restrict your calories with any diet and consume less calories than you burn, you will lose weight. It’s the old “calories in vs calories out” principle. Some studies have shown that short-term fasting may boost the metabolism by increasing norepinephrine which can enhance weight loss. One study showed that intermittent fasting over a 3 to 12 week period was as effective in initiating weight loss as being in a continuous caloric deficit and decreased body weight and fat mass by up to 8% and 16% respectively. To reiterate the first point made, fasting is a restriction of calories and therefore will result in weight loss. I do warn that if fasting is used for too long, it can result in fat gain as your body begins to think it is in survival mode and will then hold onto body fat as a result.
How I Use Fasting
As you can see, fasting has tremendous value and its practice would not still be around if it didn’t have health benefits. Unfortunately, the fitness industry has manipulated the research to sell products and services around it. I like to use fasting a few key occasions. First, we all are guilty of binge eating during the holidays. I know on Thanksgiving; I will be consuming way more calories than I normally would during a regular meal. I will fast the morning off for about 12 to 16 hours to offset the surplus of calories that I will be consuming that evening. I also like to fast when I am feeling inflamed. Since fasting has shown to reduce inflammation, I like to do an intermittent fast to relieve my joints of aches and pains.
There you have it. Fasting can have tremendous benefits on our health but only if it is understood and used appropriately. Hopefully now that you have a deeper understanding of what fasting is and all it gives, you can now see how you can fit this practice in your lifestyle.