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©Julien Tromeur/Shutterstock
©Julien Tromeur/Shutterstock

The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Fasting

Picture of Nadia Elysse
US Editorial Team Lead
Updated: 24 May 2017

Most global religions acknowledge fasting as a way to sacrifice something one needs or wants for the purpose of honoring a higher power. Christians do it during Lent and the Holy Week before Easter. Buddhists fast during new moon and on full moon days. And Muslims fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

But outside of its believed spiritual benefits, fasting can also offer some pretty powerful physical and mental health benefits as well. Here are five health benefits of fasting:

Develops discipline

This benefit may be both physical and mental, depending on how you choose to look at it. The self control it takes to refrain from eating and drinking for a period of time can be applied to other aspects of your life. In the 1960s, Dr. Matthew Maltz published a renowned book in which he proclaimed it takes 21 days to form a habit. Most religious fasts last way longer than that.

More recent research says the amount of time it takes to develop a habit may vary, depending on the person. But overall, based on both theories, daily consistency is key to developing discipline—and that’s exactly what fasting provides.

Improves heart health

Diets that incorporate intermittent fasting have been linked to improved cardiovascular health. That’s because fasting lowers the probability some key risk factors for heart disease. Those factors include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Lowers diabetes risk

In a 2014 study, participants who alternated “feed days” and “fast days” experienced decreased insulin resistance. Researchers said that intermittent fasting could be a comparable alternative to calorie reduction as part of type 2 diabetes treatment.

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Aids in weight loss and curbs hunger

Calorie restriction and exercise are, of course, science-backed ways to lose weight. However, in that same 2014 study, participants who alternated fast and feed days saw a reduction in weight as well. This isn’t some revolutionary concept though. Taking two to three days a week off from eating, too, reduces calorie intake. That, combined with consistent exercise, inevitably leads to weight loss.

Helps you live longer

Intermittent fasting may be the true fountain of youth. Studies dating back as far as 1982 have found a direct correlation between fasting and longevity. In fact, a study earlier this year found that “fast mimicking diets” actually reverses cell aging. Researchers admitted the results wholly depend on whether people consistently adhere to the fasting diet (which many participants were unable to).