Ever heard of friends with benefits? Well, intermittent fasting is that friend – it boasts a long list of very real, very awesome health benefits.
For my second article in this intermittent fasting (IF) series, I’m getting into all the evidence-based health benefits of intermittent fasting. We’re talking about science here – this stuff is legit. So if you thought fasting was only for trimming down your waistline, wait until you learn everything else it has to offer.
If you skipped the introduction to intermittent fasting, go back to my previous article and start this new relationship off right. Otherwise, it’s time to go deep and discover some surprising things IF can do for your mind and body.
Weight loss is a major benefit of intermittent fasting. In fact, it’s likely why most people decide to try IF. And it works. A study from 2015 found that people lost an average of 7 percent of their body weight and slashed up to 12 pounds of body fat while following an alternate-day fasting schedule.
How does it work? Science.
Intermittent fasting revs up the fat burning in your body because you’re in the fasted state for longer periods of time. Generally it takes 10-16 hours for the body to use fat storage as energy. When you eat, your body primarily uses glucose as its big energy source and stores the leftovers as glycogen to use as fuel later on. But when you fast, your body uses up both of these main sources (glucose and glycogen), so it must turn to fat stores for fuel once depleted.
Specifically, intermittent fasting can help reduce belly fat. Ugh, belly fat – it’s notoriously hard to get rid of. And excess fat you store around the abdominal area is linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, so getting rid of that stubborn belly fat has massive benefits.
Keep Your Heart Healthy
In both the United States and Australia, heart disease is responsible for around 25 percent of all deaths. But it’s not just a problem in these two countries – it’s a serious global issue. According to the World Health Organization, heart disease is the number one killer worldwide.
So here’s some good news – intermittent fasting may improve your overall heart health and lower heart disease risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation, and blood sugar levels.
We’ll talk about several of these individual health markers later in this article, but it’s important to keep in mind that they all contribute to a healthy heart.
When you get injured, you experience inflammation because your body is trying to heal itself. However, chronic inflammation can increase your risk of diseases like cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
According to a 2015 study, an extended period of nighttime fasting decreased the markers of inflammation. Several other studies have shown similar results, which is promising evidence that IF may help fight inflammation.
Improve Blood Sugar Levels
Intermittent fasting is proven to lower both insulin resistance and blood sugar levels, which in turn lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes. This implies that IF may be ideal for people at risk of developing this debilitating disease.
Let’s do a crash course in insulin and its connection to blood sugar levels. When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose (sugar), and insulin grabs on to this glucose and carries it to the cells for energy.
But high insulin levels can prevent insulin from doing its job effectively, so the glucose doesn’t make it to the cells – it just floats around in your bloodstream, resulting in high blood sugar levels.
If you prevent insulin from building up, you help it do its job more effectively and keep your body sensitive to the effects of the insulin. All of this lowers your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Could intermittent fasting be the famed fountain of youth? No. But studies do show that it may help you live longer. While this isn’t 100 percent proven, it’s an intriguing idea and definitely worth a shot.
Because of all the other health benefits of intermittent fasting, such as reducing the risk of deadly diseases, it logically follows that IF leads to a longer, healthier life.
This is another exciting (and potentially groundbreaking) development in the research on intermittent fasting, so it’s definitely worth noting. Intermittent fasting could reduce your risk of cancer, or at least slow it down.
Several studies in animals show that fasting delayed the onset of cancerous tumors, but no research has linked fasting with cancer in humans. Yet.
Get Your Mind Right
Like I said, intermittent fasting is good for the body AND mind. Research suggests that IF could improve brain health and keep your mind sharp and focused.
For example, fasting has been connected to improved learning and memory. Another study links the anti-inflammatory benefits of IF to the slowing of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
It should be noted that most of these studies have been performed in mice, and further experiments are needed to see if these brain-boosting benefits apply to humans as well. But if the research holds up, this could be huge in helping us lead happier, healthier lives well into old age.
Stress. Nobody wants it. Everybody has it. And with stress comes a long list of health problems.
So why not simplify your life with intermittent fasting? It’s a stress-free diet because it’s not a diet at all – you simply eat during the feeding window. You don’t have to worry about counting calories or keeping a food diary or trying to figure out macros. It’s like the “easy button” for healthy dieting and weight loss.
See, I told you – intermittent fasting is a friend with lots of benefits.
Want to take this friendship to the next level? I thought you might. For my next article, it’s time to commit – I’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to start an intermittent fast.
Lilli is a weight training enthusiast with a background in both CrossFit and powerlifting. She lives on a ranch in Texas where she has built an amazing home gym right in her own backyard (err, garage). When she’s not working out, Lilli works as a freelance writer and travels as often as possible.