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Does Fasting Have a Place in a Healthy Lifestyle?

February 16, 2014

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Fasting is becoming a popular way to improve your health, but has long held a place in ancient traditions, where it was used to gain spiritual insight, sharpen clarity, and increase physical prowess. Hippocrates recommended fasting as a medical prescription, and Plato claimed it gave him greater physical and mental strength that he used for wrestling. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently found that fasting can help to significantly reduce the risk of certain kinds of heart disease.

An AHA fasting study looked at a population of nearly 5,000 men and women who fasted for 24 hours once a month. Their study indicated that this group was 39 percent less likely than the general public to develop coronary artery disease. Across a spectrum of medical studies, fasting has also been shown to contribute to the resolution of some allergies and inflammatory issues, such as arthritis and psoriasis. However, it must be stated that fasting is not recommended for people with compromised liver or kidney functions or immunity deficiencies, among other medical issues.

Recently, fitness experts have discovered that shorter but more frequent fasts can be more effective than longer ones. Intermittent Fasting (IF) has been getting a lot of attention from professional athletes and personal trainers as well, and is used to systematically help tweak one’s body composition, burn fat more efficiently, and build lean muscle mass. Some of these programs are a little extreme, but the evidence seems clear that even non-athletes can benefit from fasting. IF is a much easier way to incorporate fasting safely into your daily life than longer fasts. The two main types are: 

  • Window IF: This involves only eating within a short window of time, such as two meals between 12pm and 4pm, and then fasting during the time outside of the set window.
  • Swing IF: This involves eating on a normal schedule, then taking 24 hours off from eating for one or two days per week.

Before incorporating fasting into your lifestyle, be sure to get the go-ahead from your doctor. Once you're ready to give it a try, it’s important to consider these points:

  • Begin slowly and ease into it. Extreme fasting may be dangerous and can cause mental and physical problems. It’s better to be cautious and slowly build up.
  • Beware of juice cleanses and other fads that can destabilize your blood sugar.
  • Listen to your body, as it may take a little tweaking to find what strategy works best for you. Never force yourself to submit to a routine that makes you feel bad.

With these precautions in mind, you may begin to safely incorporate fasting into your lifestyle, gauging what’s the best way for you to achieve its maximum benefits.

Have you used fasting as a health-promoting technique? What has worked for you?