Have you heard your doctor mention the words “intermittent fasting” before? Maybe you’ve read about it online. Today, more and more people are turning to intermittent fasting — not eating, or limiting their food intake, for a period of time — as a way to lose weight. However, in addition to its weight loss benefits, there is growing clinical research which suggests that eating less at certain times of the day can also help improve your heart’s health.
How Intermittent Fasting Helps Your Heart
While it’s no secret that simply losing weight can improve the health of your heart and blood vessels, research shows that intermittent fasting helps the heart in other ways. For example, in one study, people who ate 25% of the calories needed for energy every other day lost about 12 pounds over 8 weeks. However, their weight loss totals weren’t the only thing that changed. Total cholesterol also dropped by 21%, their “bad” LDL cholesterol fell by 25%, and their triglycerides, a harmful type of fat in the blood, went down 32%. Likewise, systolic blood pressure decreased from 124 mm Hg. to 116 mm Hg.
You can even combine this type of plan with exercise to make it even more effective. A 2018 study found that eating less every other day triggered weight loss, lowered waist size, and reduced body fat in a group of people, but those who followed the eating plan and also exercised got even better results.
Likewise, practicing intermittent fasting over a long period of time has also shown to have even more heart benefits. In a large group study, doctors found that those who ate little food for one day a week over a period of several years had much less heart disease and lower rates of diabetes compared to their counterparts.
How to Get Started with Intermittent Fasting
Before you start a fasting regimen, it’s important to know that there are different forms of intermittent fasting. Some involve eating less food every other day; others eat less on two days of the week, called the 5:2 method. Studies show that these eating patterns are as effective at helping people lose weight as cutting back on food every day, but because you are allowed to eat normally on the “off” days, these plans may be easier to follow.
According to Dr. Glenn Huth, a vascular specialist at the Heart and Vascular Institute of Wisconsin (and personal proponent of intermittent fasting), “intermittent fasting is a good diet for people with metabolic syndrome and for people who want to reduce belly fat. It is also a safe diet for people with healthy kidneys and patients who are not taking insulin for diabetes.”
If intermittent fasting sounds too hard, think about trying a modified version that restricts eating within certain hours of the day. In a study of overweight men with pre-diabetes, those who ate just during the an 8-hour time period had lower insulin levels, better insulin sensitivity, and lower blood pressure than those who ate throughout a 12-hour period of the day.
Regardless which method you try, always be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program, especially if you have a heart condition. For more information about intermittent fasting, read the intermittent fasting guide right here.