Intermittent Fasting for Older Adults: Is Age a Factor?

April 19, 2021

Intermittent Fasting for Older Adults: Is Age a Factor?

In this article:

  • Intermittent fasting & IF methods
  • Perfect age for starting IF & its suitability for older individuals
  • IF & weight loss, menopause, and muscle building

Intermittent fasting, simply known as IF, has become the talk of the town - and there are many reasons to back up its growing popularity. IF isn’t a diet, a strict regimen, or a meal plan; it is more of an eating pattern. However, the people who practice it like to refer to IF as a lifestyle. The main difference between IF and numerous popular diets is that the focus is not on weight loss, but on positive lifestyle changes and health improvement (don’t worry - weight loss is surely an added bonus!).

As we’ve mentioned, IF isn’t a strict regimen, and its flexibility is just one of the things people love about it. There is no predetermined diet plan, no forbidden foods, and no restrictions. There are also multiple versions of IF depending on the individual’s goals, dietary preferences, and lifestyle. If you’re looking to make the right choice and find the option that will suit your lifestyle and needs the best, keep on reading!

Intermittent Fasting & Its Methods

IF allows you to take advantage of the timing of your meals without restricting your dietary choices. While there are different IF methods, all of them operate on the same principle: the rotation of fasting periods (when there’s limited or no food intake) and eating windows (periods of eating). Regardless of the method you choose, the key lies in consistency. So, what’s the secret behind depriving yourself of food for determined periods of time? The fasting period drives the body into a metabolic switch, which means that the body, being deprived of food, has exhausted the stored sugar for energy and is now burning fat. [1]

This process is also known as autophagy, and it has been found to strengthen the immune system, regulate blood sugar, improve muscle performance, protect healthy cells, tighten the skin and improve its overall quality. Numerous studies have shown that fasting can result in greater insulin sensitivity, lowering the chance of the development of metabolic conditions such as diabetes and vascular disease. [2] In a nutshell, fasting causes glucose and insulin levels to drop, increasing the levels of glucagon - the blood sugar-stabilizing hormone. Glucagon then triggers the process of autophagy, and the next thing you know - your body is burning that stubborn fat you couldn’t get rid of.

Basically, if you continue to eat throughout the day with no periods of fasting, the body will run on those calories and fat stores will remain untouched. Benefits of intermittent fasting, aside from fat burning and weight loss, include a boost in cognitive function and physical performance, as well as improvement in blood pressure and rate, not to mention overall skin health and complexion. [1]

The 5:2 Diet, also known as the Fast Diet, is the best introduction to IF and is suitable for beginners. This weekly method includes 5 days of non-restrictive eating and 2 days of fasting, with food intake limited to 500-600 calories a day. While there are no strict rules when it comes to this approach, you are advised not to fast for two consecutive days due to the low calorie intake.

Other examples of weekly-focused fasting include Alternate Day fasting (ADF), which basically means fasting every other day, and Eat-Stop-Eat (a 24-hour-fast 2 times a week), which is probably the most rigorous option. If you’re feeling super bold, you could try the Extended Fast, also known as the prolonged fast, which entails fasting for more than 48 consecutive hours. Needless to say, extreme forms of fasting such as this one should never be done without medical supervision. [3] (Find out how to retain your energy level while fasting.)

When it comes to the hourly IF patterns, the 16:8 model takes the lead. For this method, you will want to keep your eating window no longer than 8 hours, while you’ll fast for 16 hours. Yet another popular time-restricted variation is the 14:10 which includes a longer period of eating. However, if you prefer to eat two large meals a day, you may feel more comfortable following the 20:4 method (20h of fasting and 4h of eating). An even stricter method is known as OMAD, short for one meal a day, and it is definitely not the method you want to start your IF journey with! [3]

So, how can you decide what’s right for you? Luckily, IF isn’t a one-size-fits-all routine, and it can be adapted to different goals, lifestyles, and backgrounds. As a beginner, you’re advised to ease into the process by choosing a less rigid version such as the 5:2. Later, when your body is familiar with the fast and you’re no longer experiencing “hanger” attacks, you’ll feel more comfortable branching out into other models. But, can your age be a factor, or even an obstacle when it comes to your IF journey?

Q&A

At what age do you recommend beginning intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is generally considered to be safe, and it could be beneficial even for teenagers, but under one important condition: the diet must be nutrient-dense. Teens, who are still in the growth stage, require all the necessary nutrients and should avoid any restrictive diets (unless they’re health-related and medically supervised). [4] Also, in this sensitive life period, teens should not engage in strict, long fasts, but rather go with simpler, more sustainable IF forms. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t advise young individuals to start this regimen without consulting with a registered dietitian, especially if dealing with health issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease.

Can intermittent fasting apply to elderly people (70+)?

Generally speaking, yes. But we already know that generalizations aren’t really applicable when it comes to health. Elderly people should consult with a professional before starting a fast, or any other dietary routine for that matter, especially if they struggle with chronic medical conditions. [5] That being said, healthy older individuals could benefit from IF, especially since it has been shown to promote overall wellness and longevity. [5] Of course, it is necessary to start slowly, following less strict IF methods, and preserve energy during the fast by limiting activities. [5]

Up until what age can a person adopt intermittent fasting?

As we’ve already mentioned, there aren’t any strict, age-related limitations when it comes to IF. This dietary pattern could be a great choice even for the elderly, as long as they’ve consulted with their healthcare provider/nutrition specialist. What’s more, there isn’t any firm evidence regarding the risks of this kind of lifestyle in older individuals. [6] Fasting could, however, pose a problem for people who need to take their medications with food, or who take heart or blood pressure medications, since they could be at risk of imbalances in potassium and sodium during the fasting window. [6]

Will IF help me lose weight at any age?

Body weight can be regulated at any age, but it depends on numerous factors. For instance, there are significant metabolic changes that contribute to weight gain, especially in women. [7] The primary factors to consider when it comes to weight loss are your nutritive choices and calorie intake. Even if you’re following an IF regime, a caloric surplus (consuming more calories than you’re spending) will eventually lead to weight gain. Making smarter choices in the kitchen, increasing protein intake (which can easily be done with all-natural collagen supplementation), engaging in daily activities, and implementing strength training if possible are just some of the ways to a healthy weight loss regardless of your age.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to aid in weight loss by promoting fat-burning while preserving lean muscle mass, consequently boosting the metabolic rate. [8] 

Can I do intermittent fasting during menopause?

Yes! Intermittent fasting can be a rather powerful tool during menopause, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. As we’ve stated, in order to lose weight you must be in a calorie deficit, and IF makes this easier for many people. While many models of IF do not restrict the quantity of food, the duration of the eating window itself doesn’t usually allow you to have more than 2 big meals, which can aid in weight loss. [9]

However, some studies have shown that certain women may experience hormonal disruptions due to a more extreme calorie restriction. [9] Therefore, it is crucial to choose shorter fasting periods and not drop your calories too low. Fasting has also been associated with improved cognitive functions and better mood, which is always a plus - especially in menopausal women dealing with brain fog and mood fluctuations. [10] Nevertheless, if you ever feel like fasting is affecting you in a negative way (physically and/or mentally), you should stop immediately. Menopause is already a confusing, challenging time as it is, and additional stress is the last thing you need.

I’m trying to gain muscle, is IF beneficial?

Intermittent fasting is often linked to weight loss, since it aids in healthy fat loss and can also make it easier for you to stay in a caloric deficit. However, while losing weight you can lose not only body fat and water, but muscle, too. The best way to preserve and gain muscle is by combining a high-protein diet and strength training. If you’re having trouble reaching your daily protein goal, you should consider incorporating a non-GMO Collagen Peptides supplement. Not only is it a great, carb-free source of pure protein, but collagen has also been shown to aid in the muscle gain process and protect muscular structure.

Summary Points

  • While there are different IF methods, all of them operate on the same principle: the rotation of fasting periods (when there’s limited or no food intake) and eating windows (periods of eating)
  • Benefits of intermittent fasting, aside from fat burning and weight loss, include a boost in cognitive function and physical performance, as well as improvement in blood pressure and rate, not to mention overall skin health and complexion
  • Elderly people should consult with a professional before starting a fast, or any other dietary routine for that matter, especially if they struggle with chronic medical conditions
  • Intermittent fasting has been shown to aid in weight loss by promoting fat-burning while preserving lean muscle mass, consequently boosting the metabolic rate
Article References:
  1. Intermittent Fasting: What is it, and how does it work? (n.d.). Retrieved from www.hopkinsmedicine.org website: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work
  2. Harvie, M., Wright, C., Pegington, M., McMullan, D., Mitchell, E., Martin, B., Cutler, R. G., Evans, G., Whiteside, S., Maudsley, S., Camandola, S., Wang, R., Carlson, O. D., Egan, J. M., Mattson, M. P., & Howell, A. (2013). The effect of intermittent energy and carbohydrate restriction v. daily energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers in overweight women. The British journal of nutrition, 110(8), 1534–1547. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114513000792
  3. LaMantia, J. (2020, July 1). Intermittent Fasting for Women Over 40. Retrieved from Jean LaMantia - Registered Dietitian in Toronto, ON website: https://jeanlamantia.com/cancer-bites-diet-blog/intermittent-fasting-for-women-over-40/
  4. Intermittent Fasting for Teens - Is it Safe? | Kinobody. (2016, July 12). Retrieved from Kinobody Fitness Systems website: https://blog.kinobody.com/best-of/diet-nutrition-and-fasting/intermittent-fasting-for-teenagers/
  5. Inc, C. com. (2020, February 26). Fasting: Is It Safe For The Elderly? Retrieved April 9, 2021, from Care.com website: https://www.care.com/c/stories/16664/fasting-is-it-safe-for-the-elderly/en-ie/
  6. Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). Is intermittent fasting safe for older adults? Retrieved from Harvard Health website: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-intermittent-fasting-safe-for-older-adults
  7. The 20 Best Ways to Lose Weight After 50. (2019, May 13). Retrieved from Healthline website: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-lose-weight-after-50
  8. Link, R. (2019, October 29). Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Weight Loss? Retrieved from Healthline website: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/does-intermittent-fasting-work
  9. Menopause and Intermittent Fasting - Plus 5 Tips for Doing It Right. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2021, from Lisa Health Blog website: https://blog.lisahealth.com/blog/2019/5/26/menopause-and-intermittent-fasting-plus-5-tips-for-doing-it-right
  10. Should You Intermittent Fast During Menopause? A Hormone Expert Explains. (2019, November 15). Retrieved from mindbodygreen website: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/should-you-intermittent-fast-during-menopause-hormone-expert-explains 




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