In our fast-paced world, where time is precious, it’s no wonder that health-conscious seniors are turning to intermittent fasting as a powerful tool to enhance well-being. This wellness trend has gained popularity for its potential to boost energy, support weight management and promote overall health.

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that revolves around when you eat rather than what you eat. The concept is simple: alternate between periods of eating and fasting that can be implemented into your daily life for as little to, or as long as you’d like – a few weeks to forever.

Many seniors benefit from this practice, with 16-8 intermittent fasting being the most popular option. This method necessitates an eight-hour window for eating and a sixteen-hour fast regularly, making it easier to stick to in the long run. Even though other more restrictive methods are available, such as all-day fasting two days per week or reduced caloric intake for two days per week, the 16-8 intermittent fasting for seniors method is preferred because it frequently provides better sustainability and overall results.

When you fast, your body undergoes a process called metabolic switching. After several hours without food, your sugar stores are depleted, and your body starts burning fat for energy. This shift from glucose to fat metabolism can have several benefits:

  • Weight Management: Seniors who practice intermittent fasting may experience better insulin sensitivity and reduced body fat percentage which is a helpful tool for weight management and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Cellular Repair: During fasting, your cells initiate repair processes, promoting longevity and overall health.

Beyond energy and weight management, Intermittent Fasting has been associated with other various health benefits including:

  • Enhanced Brain Function: Studies reveal that intermittent fasting boosts cognitive function. It improves working memory, your brain’s ability to problem-solve and make decisions, and verbal memory, your ability to remember words and language, keeping your brain sharp and focused.
  • Heart Health: Research suggests that intermittent fasting can improve heart health in seniors over the age of 70. It may lead to lower levels of “bad” LDL, low-density lipoproteins, cholesterol, and reduced risk of heart disease.
  • Reduced Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is linked to various diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. During fasting periods, your body initiates repair processes, including autophagy, or cellular cleanup. By allowing your digestive system to rest, the immune response is regulated and reduces inflammation.

If you are a senior and considering intermittent fasting, it is important to proceed with caution. While intermittent fasting has been shown to have potential benefits such as weight loss and reduced risk of various diseases, we don’t have much evidence about its effect on the health of older adults. Potential risks for seniors include increased risk of falls due to dehydration and dizziness, vitamin deficiencies, lowered metabolic rate and more difficulty in meeting the body’s nutritional needs during intense physical activity or periods of illness. It’s very important to stay hydrated during the fasting hours and to consult your physicians before you start an intermittent fasting regimen.

If you and your doctor decide intermittent fasting is right for you, here are some steps seniors can take to incorporate Intermittent Fasting into your daily routine:

  • Start Gradually: Seniors should begin with an 8-hour fasting window and gradually extend it to 12 hours. Each fasting episode should last a minimum of 12 hours to reap the benefits.
  • Stay Hydrated: Adequate hydration ensures proper cellular function and prevents dehydration which can lead to fatigue. Drinking two to three liters (about eight to 12 cups) of water daily can also help with appetite control and digestion.
  • Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods: When you break your fast, opt for whole foods rich in nutrients like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, dairy and healthy fats. Try to limit red and processed meats, sodium, added sugars and alcohol.
  • Listen to Your Body: When you feel hungry, your body will start signaling that it needs nourishment through hunger cues like stomach growling, a feeling of emptiness or irritability. Pay attention to hunger cues and adjust your eating window accordingly to accommodate your body’s needs by either eating earlier in the day or later in the evening. Enjoying calorie-free drinks like water, black coffee or tea won’t break your fast.
  • Medications: Continue your medication regimen as recommended by your doctor. Taking medications will not break your fast. If you need food with your medication, try a modified fast by changing the time window in which you eat.

If it’s right for you, and with your health care provider's help, you can set your eating clock, and discover the transformative effects of intermittent fasting. It’s never too late to live a healthier lifestyle to reduce chronic disease issues and to keep you active and well.

About Vinh H. Nguyen, MD, MemorialCare Medical Group – Huntington Beach
As a family medicine physician, Dr. Nguyen enjoys having the opportunity to care for patients of all ages: from children to seniors Dr. Nguyen earned his medical degree from the University of California, Irvine, where he was honored with the UCI/National Institutes of Health Research Fellowship Scholarship. While completing his medical residency training in Long Beach, Dr. Nguyen was also proud to be selected as the Chief Resident of Educational Affairs. Dr. Nguyen is active in the community volunteering his time and medical expertise with several non-profit organizations. He is fluent in English, and Vietnamese and speaks “medical” Spanish.