Who doesn’t want to live longer, right? Well, living longer is one thing. Maintaining a high quality life over a longer period of time is another. By now medicine has figured out how you can live longer with AIDS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and cognitive decline. But how about living longer without getting all those old peoples’ diseases? Wouldn’t it be great to maintain muscle mass, cognitive function, metabolic health and skin tone when you are 80 just the way you did at 40 or 50? Well, it turns out there may be ways to do that, and I discuss one of them in the article below.
How to die young at an old age
My starting point for this article is the following: there are no right models but some models are useful. In other words, nothing is hard and fast in science. Our understanding evolves all the time, and with that the world around us evolves as well. And I am not necessarily saying that evolving our understanding means we understand more. Sometimes we simply get to a point where we realize that we don’t understand anything. And those can be pivotal points as they make us go back to basics and start all over again.
So ageing, extending life and improving health (and looks!) at an old age… It seems science has gone right back to basics on this one. And there is one simple principle that emerges time and again with almost every study on longevity: eat less.
Now, there are two main ways to go about eating less. Suppose you settle on reducing your caloric intake down to X calories per day. (NB: I don’t know how much X should be for you – that will depend on body weight, physical exertion, etc.) One way to eat those X calories daily would be to distribute them throughout the entire day over frequent but small portion meals. Conversely, you can eat the same amount of calories during a restricted time feeding window, say 8 hours (i.e. eat fewer but bigger meals) and fast for the remaining 16 hours. The latter strategy is called intermittent fasting and the scientific literature at the moment says that that’s the way to go, if you want to live longer, look better and feel healthier.
Thus, researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with pre-diabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding,” where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 am to 3 pm), or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 am and 7 pm). After five weeks, the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. And the best part – the eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite.
Another study compared the effect of consuming one afternoon meal per day for 8 weeks and reported 4.1% weight loss in comparison to an isocaloric diet consumed as three meals per day. One meal per day was also associated with reductions in fasting glucose, improvements in LDL- and HDL-cholesterol, and reduction in inflammatory markers.
I can go on citing other studies. Many of them are on rats, where intermittent fasting conclusively extends life and health-span by at least 10 percent (which, by the way, in rat world is equivalent to many, many years). But I want to bring this discussion back to basics, which was my starting premise. Recall that in every religion some form of fasting is an important practice. You think that’s for religious purposes per se? And you think it’s a coincidence that all religions recommend incorporating some fasting regiment? I would think not. My guess is people have always intuitively known what’s best for them. And this intuitive knowledge is reflected in religious texts which sort of act like manuals for wholesome living. Indeed, if you followed spiritual teachings (e.g. love unconditionally, forgive, be compassionate, let go and surrender, don’t overeat, etc.), you might live longer and healthier (of course provided you threw away the institutional “religious” crap that got over-imposed to serve the ego purposes of the upper classes and to instigate fear in the masses). Now science comes along and says the same thing that religions preached for centuries – intermittent fasting seems to trigger repair processes in the body which, in turn, increase health, improve looks, and extend life. Isn’t that interesting!