Intermittent fasting is “fast” becoming the new go to diet for many weight management focused and health conscious individuals and health practitioners. As we age, we need to be more conscious of our body composition and fasting may be a possible solution to the issue of the ever-rising rates of obesity prevalence in older populations.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is an umbrella term for many different variations of the practice of fasting. At its core, it is very simple; you endure an elongated period of time between each meal or eating window, achieving a “fasted state”.
Modalities of IF include; restricted eating windows on a given day (allowing yourself only four hours that day in which you can eat for example), full day fasts, multi-day fasts and even following very restricted eating on one or two days a week (restricting yourself to below a certain number of calories, however the validity of this as a traditional “fast” is questionable).
There are those who combine fasting with other dietary practices too (such as the keto diet), however trialing it on its own first may help with adherence as it can be challenging to get used to the more restrictive lifestyle.
Incorporating meals that are high in food volume can help with the hunger that may occur outside of eating windows; egg white omelets packed with veggies, frozen fruit and yogurt or even a big bowl of hearty oats are all good options to include.
The benefits of intermittent fasting for women over 50
Intermittent fasting for women over 50 may be of greater benefit to this group than others.
Women in this age range are at greatest risk of gaining excessive bodyweight / fat (in relation to menopause), developing metabolic syndromes (such as diabetes) lose lean body mass (thanks to sarcopenia which is age related muscle loss) and are at greatest risk of developing breast cancer (especially those who are post-menopausal).
IF has been shown to be an effective tool for weight management and has unique benefits relating to improving an individual’s metabolic health. Irrespective of activity levels, women’s insulin sensitivity and or overall functionality appears to decrease with age, however IF may ameliorate this issue.
Being in a healthier weight / body fat range can have a significant impact on lowering your risk of developing breast cancer. We imagine you’re already pretty health conscious as is but knowing IF is another handy tool in the toolbox of taking care of your health may come in handy!
This improved weight management has also been shown to have a protective effect on our heart health. With the increased fat burning and dramatic weight loss, studies have found significant reductions in circulating cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as an improvement in subject’s cholesterol profiles.
Higher levels of cholesterol and triglycerides are risk factors for heart disease, as is a cholesterol profile higher in “bad” cholesterol (low density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol).
If you really want to double down on the benefits of IF in improving your heart health, women over 50 should consider a diet higher in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in the likes of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel etc.) and monounsaturated fatty acids.
As a simple rule of thumb, most plant sourced fats will provide these “healthy” fats whereas most animal sources will provide “unhealthy” fats (such as saturated and trans fats which can be detrimental to the markers of heart health we listed). Of note, increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with a reduction in menopausal symptoms.
Combining IF with a high protein and or keto style diet (which is typically high in protein too) may help combat sarcopenia (alongside your active lifestyle and incorporating some form of resistance training). This is critically important too as loss of muscle can cause metabolic dysfunction, leading to conditions like diabetes (the most significant risk factor for heart disease) and increase risk of debilitating accidents (like falling).
Is intermittent fasting safe for women over 50?
Clinicians see intermittent fasting as a safe practice when followed in a healthy way. There are some risks to be wary of though, especially as it relates to active women over the age of 50.
Managing our weight is a healthy practice which can improve long term quality of life and prevent non-communicable diseases (like diabetes, heart disease etc.), however, we want to be mindful that as an already active person, losing too much weight / fat can be a risk for other issues. Post-menopausal women should be especially concerned regarding excessive weight loss strategies and decreases in bone mass density and muscle mass. Weight management is a great goal to strive for but taking a more extreme approach may do more harm than good.
There is also the worry that IF may lead to some nutritional deficiencies which can ultimately affect your immune system functionality (an especially important consideration in our present climate). Be mindful to incorporate plenty of fruit and veg and nutrient dense foods within your eating window to achieve your targets. If you choose to combine multiple dietary approaches, a Mediterranean style or paleo diet may help you achieve the nutrient dense diet you’re after to sustain your health while supporting your performance and exercise.
Is intermittent fasting sustainable for women over 50?
The sustainability of any diet or dietary approach depends entirely on the person and their lifestyle. IF for women over the age of 50 would appear to be as suitable for any other demographic if practiced the right way.
While more long term work needs to be undergone, studies have generally found IF to be sustainable and adhered to among many different demographics (at least in relation to weight management).
In the initial stages there may be certain supplements to incorporate to act as a “safety net” while you adopt the practice.
A multivitamin ensures you’re covering all your body’s needs and supplementation of nutrients like vitamin D and omega-3s would almost always be recommended for older groups (vitamin D having an important role in protecting bone mass density and omega-3s possibly contributing to heart health but also having benefits in relation to cognitive health).
Read Also: Top 5 Best Electrolytes for a keto diet
A protein powder of some kind would also be of benefit (in relation to your recovery from training and the general benefits of higher protein diets), perhaps even considering a casein protein; a slower digesting protein that you could take at the end of your eating window that will continue to supply your body with the building blocks it needs until the next meal.
For exercising groups, this may be one of the few occasions in which a BCAA supplement may be of benefit. It may help protect muscle mass when taken around training and, at the bare minimum, could have a positive effect on focus when training (which may be difficult if you are hungry or fatigued from not having eaten).
As we age, the approach we take with our diet to ensure our best state of health, performance and recovery becomes ever more important.
IF for women over the age of 50 may be a perfect solution to reducing the risk of many of this groups associated health issues and can even improve health when combined with other complimentary dietary practices.
We’d love to hear more about your experiences with IF and if any of our audience has found success when using this approach!