- A view of me in the suit.
- Lydia Ramsey
In the corner of a booth at the BIO International Convention in Boston sat a mysterious suit with an odd helmet.
The booth in question belonged to Bayer, the German drugmaker and chemical giant. And the suit wasn’t for a virtual reality demo or for show – it was to simulate how it might feel to be 80 years old.
The idea behind the suit was to give perspective on the growing aging population, and the challenges that come with that, such as a higher risk of heart disease.
As a fit (though potentially over-caffeinated) 25-year-old, I figured it might be worth taking a spin in the “aging” suit to see how it made me feel.
The suit was bulky and weighted to give me the impression of what it’d be like to carry around my mortal coil into old age.
- Lydia Ramsey
The suit also came with a helmet, which darkened my field of vision. I also took my glasses off, which added to the confusion. It took a team of helpers to get me suited up.
- Lydia Ramsey
At some point, a crowd had gathered to figure out why I was wearing the set-up, adding to how vulnerable I felt. On my hands, the helpers put gloves that split up my ring and pinky from my middle and pointer fingers, so I was stuck in a Vulcan salute.
- Lydia Ramsey
From my head to my feet, I was all decked out.
- Lydia Ramsey/Business Insider
As one of my tests in the suit, I was asked to open a pill box. That was easy enough, I thought. But then I was asked to pick up an individual pill. I ended up accidentally with three in my hand.
- Lydia Ramsey/Business Insider
Then I tried to sit down and stand back up. I’d been lugging around a backpack throughout the day so this part wasn’t quite as difficult, though it did feel odd with the different weight distribution.
- Lydia Ramsey/Business Insider
Moving around was trickier with weighted feet. My arms had a smaller range of motion, which felt odd as well.
The verdict: I’m not sure I felt exactly like I’d aged a half a century, but the experience definitely gave me some perspective. Not having a full range of motion in my head and hands made me uncomfortable. Picking up pills from a pillbox was hard enough, I couldn’t imagine wearing the suit all day and trying to perform more complicated tasks like cooking or driving. It was certainly a relief to take it off after a few minutes and return to my 25-year-old life.
- Lydia Ramsey/Business Insider
- Many people say they experience an energy boost while doing intermittent fasting.
- Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
It’s odd to think that depriving yourself of a necessity for life might be one of the most powerful ways to transform your health.
Yet there’s more and more evidence for the idea that fasting could have powerful health benefits for both the body and brain.
There are many different forms of fasting, however, ranging from going extended periods of time without food to consistently eating less (perhaps cutting caloric intake by 20%) to intermittent or periodic fasting.
But of all these different kinds of fasting, intermittent fasting is very likely the most popular and certainly the trendiest one. Celebrity adherents include Hugh Jackman, Tim Ferriss, and Beyonce. In Silicon Valley, whole groups of self-optimization obsessed biohackers meet to collectively break their fast once a week, and executives at companies like Facebook say that fasting has helped them lose weight and have more energy.
The hard part about classifying “intermittent fasting” is that there are a number of different forms of this kind of fast. Intermittent fasting regimens range from only allowing yourself to consume calories within a certain span of the day, likely between six and 12 hours; to eating normally five days a week and dramatically cutting calories on two fasting days; to taking a 36-hour break from food every week.
The different forms these fasts can take mean that much of the research showing benefits might be true for one of these fasts but not necessarily others. But there is good research on several of these fasts indicating that the benefits of intermittent fasting go beyond weight loss. There may be real long-term disease-fighting health improvements.
Here’s what we know so far.
A recent study suggests that intermittent fasting can do more than help people lose weight — it also may improve blood pressure and help the body process fat.
For this small study, researchers had overweight participants either cut calories every day or eat normally five days a week and only consume 600 calories on their two fasting days.
Both groups were able to lose weight successfully, though those on what’s known as the 5:2 diet did so slightly faster (though it’s not clear the diet would always help people lose weight faster).
More significantly, those from the intermittent fasting group cleared fat from their system more quickly after a meal and experienced a 9% drop in systolic blood pressure (the “regular diet” group had a slight increase in blood pressure).
This was a small study and researchers say participants had a hard time following the diet, but these are promising results.
Other studies indicate intermittent fasting could reduce risk for forms of cancer, but more research is needed.
- Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
Other small studies on a similar 5:2 diet and on other intermittent fasting diets have shown that this form of intermittent fasting is associated with physical changes that could lead to reduced cancer risk, particularly for breast cancer.
Much more research on this area is needed, but these are promising results, Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, previously told Business Insider.
There may be evolutionary reasons why depriving ourselves of food for some time makes us feel energetic and focused.
- Neanderthal paintings can be seen in a cave in Pasiega
- Thomson Reuters
“Hungry,” from an evolutionary perspective, isn’t lifeless or drained. It’s when our bodies and brains need to function at maximum capacity.
“It makes sense that the brain needs to be functioning very well when an individual is in a fasted state because it’s in that state that they have to figure out how to find food,” Mattson previously told Business Insider. “They also have to be able to expend a lot of energy. Individuals whose brains were not functioning well while fasting would not be able to compete and thrive.”
Periodic fasting may make it easier for us to burn fat and enter ketosis.
Blood samples have shown that people who fast from 12 to 24 hours at a time enter a state called ketosis, when their bodies start to derive more energy from fat, Mattson told Business Insider in another interview.
The more you enter this state, the better your body gets at using fat as fuel. For that reason, some people try to trigger ketosis with “keto” diets that involve consuming a lot of fat. But according to Mattson, fasting is a significantly more effective way of boosting ketone levels.
Intermittent fasting may strengthen neural connections and improve memory and mood.
- human brain connectome
- Human Connectome Project, Science, March 2012.
Many people who fast intermittently say that at times, they feel more clear and focused while fasting.
There’s real science to back up the idea that being “hungry” gives you a sense of focus. Entering ketosis triggers the release of a molecule called BDNF, which strengthens neurons and brain connections linked to learning and memory.
That’s one of the reasons researchers have suggested that ketogenic diets (both the fasting kind and the fat-heavy kind) could be useful for people fighting degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. That also could explain the clarity or focus some people feel after fasting. It may provide a mood boost as well.
Research indicates that some forms of intermittent fasting may help with diabetes.
Both in mice and in people, there’s evidence that certain forms of intermittent fasting can improve the body’s response to sugar. In mice, researchers have basically been able to reboot the pancreas, which produces insulin, reversing diabetes with periods of fasting like the 5:2 diet.
In people, a form of fasting that involves 25 days of unrestricted eating followed by 5 days of eating a very restricted fasting diet seems to cause big improvements for those with high blood sugar.
Intermittent fasting works at least as well as other forms of dieting for weight loss.
- Shutterstock/Siberian Photographer
No form of restricting food is necessarily easy, and people who get started with intermittent fasting for the first time agree that it’s no picnic. On the one hand, it’s nice to eat whatever your want when your diet isn’t restricted – but it’s also very hard to know you are still hours away from food when struck with a craving.
But research does indicate that intermittent fasting is at least as good as other forms of dieting for weight loss. That plus the other health benefits might make it a preferred candidate for many.
Certain forms of fasting are associated with anti-aging health effects, though it’s not clear whether intermittent fasting does this for humans.
Various forms of fasting have been associated with significantly improved lifespan and healthspan – the time an organism is healthy – in several different studies.
This has mostly been demonstrated with caloric restriction in animals, which cuts the amount of calories these animals are provided by 20-30%. There’s limited evidence that this may work for humans too.
But that sort of fast doesn’t sound necessarily safe or pleasant.
Valter Longo, an anti-aging researcher at the University of Southern California, has published research and written a book about a diet he’s developed that he says provides the health and anti-aging benefits of fasting while still letting people eat normally 25 days a month (the other five are pretty rough).
It’s unclear whether intermittent fasting would trigger the same benefits, though it’s possible.
More research is still needed on the different forms of intermittent fasting.
- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
It’s appealing to think that fasting might be an ancient survival mechanism that triggers healing processes in the body, as many fasting researchers suggest.
But that doesn’t mean all forms of fasting are the same or that they have the same health effects – many will vary from person to person, and you should always consult your doctor before trying any severe dietary changes.
In his new book, “The Longevity Diet,” Longo cautions against using the term “intermittent fasting” too broadly. We know various forms of fasts – only eating during certain hours, restricting eating one or two days a week – are associated with health benefits. But we don’t know that all these health benefits are the same for all fasts.
But even so, many of these intermittent fasting regimens are considered relatively safe for a healthy person. So if they appeal, they could be worth a shot. And they may come with a host of health benefits.
- A growing body of evidence finds that cardio exercise is the closest thing to a miracle drug that we have.
- Cardio, otherwise known as aerobic exercise, has been tied to benefits ranging from better moods and a stronger heart to a sharper mind.
- To get the most out of your swimming, running, or walking routine, studies suggest you should commit to doing it at least 2-4 times per week. Each workout should be at least 30-45 minutes.
Want an all-natural way to lift your mood, improve your memory, and protect your brain against age-related cognitive decline?
A wealth of recent research, including a new study published this month in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, suggests that any type of exercise that raises your heart rate and gets you moving and sweating for a sustained period of time – known as aerobic exercise – has a significant, overwhelmingly beneficial impact on the brain. Those benefits may start to emerge as soon as you start working out regularly.
“Aerobic exercise is the key for your head, just as it is for your heart,” write the authors of an article in the Harvard Medical School blog “Mind and Mood.”
For the latest study, researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center looked at a sample of older people who showed early signs of memory loss and were at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The less frequently the participants exercised, the weaker the connections in their brain’s white matter and the more poorly they performed on a bunch of cognitive tests.
“This research supports the hypothesis that improving people’s fitness may improve their brain health and slow down the aging process,” Kan Ding, a neurologist with the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute and the lead author on the paper, said in a statement.
Exercise may help keep the brain young
As we age, the brain – like any other organ – begins to work less efficiently, so normal signs of decline begin to surface. Our memory might not be quite as sharp as it once was, for example.
Exercising regularly as we get older appears to help defend against some of this decline, both for healthy people who show normal signs of aging and for older people who may be on the path toward developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers still aren’t sure why this is, or how it happens. Exercise could strengthen some of the pathways our brain uses to relay signals for recent events, or boost the size of certain brain regions that are key for learning and storing memories.
Regardless of the specific mechanism at play in our bodies, the most recent recommendations suggest that working out twice a week may be beneficial in curbing some symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a stage that precedes the development of Alzheimer’s in some older people. This typically involves more serious problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment than those that might be displayed by a healthy older person.
Most studies focusing on people with MCI require people to either work out or self-report their own fitness levels. But the latest study measured how fit people were by studying their breathing and heart rate. The researchers then used brain imaging to measure the functionality of peoples’ white matter and had them take a series of cognitive tests designed to measure how sharp they were.
Overall, they found that the less fit people were, the weaker their brain’s white matter connections, and the worse they did on the cognitive tests.
Two other recent studies of older people with MCI have suggested that merely amping up one’s workout routine with the right moves could help slow the brain’s decay.
Last May, scientists recruited adults with MCI between the ages of 60-88 and had them walk for 30 minutes four days a week for 12 weeks. The results showed strengthened connectivity in a region of the brain where weakened connections have been linked with memory loss. That development, the researchers noted, “may possibly increase cognitive reserve,” but more studies are needed.
Another study, this time of exclusively older women with MCI, found that aerobic exercise was tied to an increase in the size of the hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory.
Large groups of researchers are taking note of these promising findings. In December, the American Academy of Neurology updated its guidelines to reflect the takeaways of these findings. Based on a series of 6-month studies on aerobic workouts and memory in people with MCI, the new guidelines recommend that people diagnosed with the condition do some form of cardio exercise at least twice a week.
Working out could boost your mood, too
In addition to protecting the brain from aging, cardio workouts “have a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress,” according to the article in Harvard’s “Mind and Mood” blog.
The reason aerobic workouts lift our spirits seems related to their ability to reduce levels of natural stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, according to a study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. Activities like running and swimming also increase overall blood flow and provide our minds fresh energy and oxygen – another factor that could help us feel better.
- Flickr / Dave Rosenblum
Aerobic exercise may also have a uniquely powerful positive impact on people with depression. A pilot study in people with severe depression found that just 30 minutes of treadmill walking for 10 consecutive days was “sufficient to produce a clinically relevant and statistically significant reduction in depression.”
So whether you’re looking for benefits related to mood or memory, the take-home message is clear: the more you move, the healthier you may be.
“It’s exciting that exercise may help improve memory at this stage, as it’s something most people can do and of course it has overall health benefits,” Ronald C. Petersen a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and the lead author on the most recent guidelines, said in a statement.
While some benefits of exercise can emerge just a few minutes into a sweaty workout, others might take several weeks to crop up. That means that the best type of fitness is any aerobic exercise that you can do regularly and consistently for at least 45 minutes at a time.