Fasting: Is It Safe for The Elderly?
by freelance writer Riley Herder
Fasting is an ancient practice which still provides a world of benefits today. Whether part of a religious observance or for health purposes, fasting can be an extremely enriching experience if done properly.
In recent years fasting has grown in popularity. And at this moment, people around the world are preparing to fast for the Christian season of Lent. While the rewards of fasting are vastly agreed upon in both philosophical and medical fields of study, some may be wondering: Are there any dangers to fasting for those in advanced age?
In this article, we will take a look at some of the benefits of fasting and some tips for doing it safely in advanced age.
Please note: Before beginning any type of fast, it is important to consult a doctor about it first.
What is fasting?
Generally speaking, fasting is defined as pausing the intake of food for a guided period of time. But there are many different ways to fast.
Traditionally it involved abstaining from food (whether altogether or just certain types of food) during a specific portion of the calendar year. Many people still observe such fasts for religious purposes each year, such as Lent and Ramadan. In these types of fasts, the purpose is more about meditation, reflection and reorienting one’s mind.
Others fast primarily for health reasons. This can be an all-at-once “cleanse,” often aimed at detoxing one’s body from excesses. Or it can also be a series of small daily or weekly fasts spread out over an indefinite period. This is known as intermittent fasting. In intermittent fasting, one skips one or more meals per day, therefore fasting only during a particular segment of each day.
Benefits of fasting
There is overwhelming scientific evidence showing that fasting can have positive effects on our health. After a period of fasting, people normally report feeling at least to some degree better than they did before. Some of the benefits you can expect from fasting include, but are not limited to:
- Better blood pressure & heart health
- Improved sensitivity to insulin
- Steadier blood sugar levels
- Possible prevention of certain types of cancer
- Heightened mental clarity & brain function
- Increase of energy
- Assistance in weight loss
- Strengthened immune system
- Improved self-discipline
- Establishing better diet patterns
Is it safe in advanced age?
While everyone, regardless of age, should consult a medical professional before beginning a serious fast, this is especially true for the advanced in age. Fasting can be very dangerous if our body is not up for it. It is generally not advised to fast if you suffer from any kind of chronic illness or other general health issues.
Bottom line, it is between you and your doctor to determine if fasting is a safe option. But for the elderly person who seems to be perfectly healthy, a fast can be a great way to stay on track for general wellness and even promote longevity.
If you do get the okay from your doctor to begin fasting, you will want to make safety your top priority. Here are a few things to consider when planning out your fast:
Don’t overdo it.
Especially if it is your first time, avoid overly long fasting periods.
Prepare your body approaching the fast.
Don’t just binge out on food the night before to “enjoy it while you can”. In the two or three days prior to your fast’s starting date, gradually decrease the amount of food you eat to prepare your body.
It can still be good to stay active during a fast. But since your body is already burning up its reserve fat stores for energy, you want to avoid pushing yourself harder than necessary.
Listen to your body.
In the first couple days, it is normal to experience fatigue and weakness. But if you feel pain, dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, or any other serious side effects, contact your doctor immediately and end the fast if you have to.
Break the fast delicately.
After a period of no food intake, it is important to take it slow and introduce bland foods first. Start with simple broth, or easy to digest vegetables. Avoid anything heavy. Experts suggest that however many days you fast for, you should spend half that amount of days slowly introducing foods back into your diet. So, if you fast for six days, spend the three following days ramping back up to a normal eating routine.
Expect to gain back most, or all, of the lost weight.
Another important note, especially for those who fast to lose weight. Most of the weight you will lose during a fast is water weight, and quickly returns as you reintroduce foods. This is normal and natural. Don’t be discouraged. You have still improved your metabolism and have taken a considerable step toward better health.
If it happens that your doctor advises you against fasting, but you still would like to participate in the observance of a ritual fast such as the upcoming Lenten season, there may be alternative ways to do so. For instance, you can choose to cut out sugar, coffee or alcohol. You could also try a media fast—such as no TV, switching off internet on your mobile devices, etc.
However you fast, just be sure to keep your safety and well-being in mind, and follow the proper steps to ensure that not only you are doing it safely, but also that you are not minimizing the positive effects the fast can have on your life.
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