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Intermittent fasting protects cells from ageing as regular brisk walk cuts early death by 70%


PHOTO: Women Fitness

Intermittent fasting can keep your body younger, extend your lifespan and improve your overall health, a new Harvard University, United States (U.S.), study suggests.

Various forms of fasting have been getting hype (and hate) for everything from weight loss to productivity enhancement.

The jury is still out on some of the benefits and drawbacks of fasting, but the new Harvard study finally explains how intermittent fasting can keep the body ‘young’ at a cellular level.


Researchers at Harvard found that temporarily restricting diet keeps the mitochondria – an important part of the cell to health aging – in homeostasis, which in turn helps to improve lifespan.

Fasting is the new juicing lately, as celebrities like Benedict Cumberbatch and, reportedly, Beyonce and Silicon Valley executives alike extol the virtues of the 5:2 diet, which involves normal eating habits for five days a week, but dramatically intake on the other two days.

Some research has shown that intermittent fasting offers no benefits over daily dietary restrictions, but animal studies have found that it was linked to longer life spans.

Also, according to new research published in journal Circulation, one brisk walk a week could cut an older woman’s risk of early death by 70 percent.

The study suggests that more physical activity, particularly at higher intensities, could lead to a ‘big’ increase in life expectancy among females in retirement age.

Researchers at Harvard University found light-intensity physical activity, such as a walking a dog, doing housework, or window shopping, did nothing to improve or worsen longevity.

Experts say this research should drive doctors to prescribe more intense physical activity to their patients, particularly older females.

Last year, Newcastle University research confirmed the crucial role of the mitochondria in human cell aging, and therefore, the aging of our bodies.

Mitochondria break down carbohydrates and fatty acids, giving energy to the cell. For this reason, they are often referred to as the ‘powerhouses’ of our cells.

The Newcastle University researchers found that without their aged mitochondria, cells appeared younger.

Mitochondria exist in two states, and when they are alternating appropriately between these two states, they are in homeostasis.

The Harvard researchers found that mitochondria stay in homeostasis better when an organism – in their study, a nematode worm – has an intermittently restricted diet.

At the same time, being able to swing as they’re supposed to from on state to the other is key to the longevity-enhancing effects of intermittent fasting.

The researchers also found that intermittent fasting helped to coordinate the activities of the mitochondria with peroxisomes, other cell parts that have an antioxidant effect and contribute to longevity.

This newfound understanding of how fasting works at a cellular level could be a key to discovering therapies that could be beneficial to extending life expectancies and keeping the body younger.

Previous studies, which used self-reports, showed that active people have about 20 to 30 percent lower death rates, compared to their least active counterparts.

The latest research, conducted from 2011 to 2015, is among the first to investigate physical activity, measured using a wearable device called a triaxial accelerometer.

The device is capable of measuring activity along three planes: up and down, front to back and side to side. The capabilities increase sensitivity to detect physical activity and allow for more precise measurements.

Study first author Professor I-Min Lee, of Harvard University’s medical and public health schools in the US, said: “We used devices to better measure not only higher intensity physical activities, but also lower intensity activities and sedentary behaviour, which has become of great interest in the last few years.”

More than 17,700 women with an average age of 72 wore the activity monitoring device for seven days.

Figures were analysed from 16,741 participants who wore their devices for at least 10 hours a day, on at least four days. During an average follow-up of around 30 months, 207 women died.

The researchers found that more moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity -such as brisk walking – was associated with roughly a 60 percent to 70 percent lower risk of death at the end of the study among the most active women, compared to the least active.

More light intensity activity – including housework or slow walking such as window shopping – or more sedentary behavior was not independently associated with death risk at the study’s end.

The researchers stressed their finding does not mean light activity isn’t beneficial for other health outcomes.

Lee said the findings, published in the journal Circulation, support 2008 guidelines that suggest at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity – or a combination of the two – and muscle-strengthening exercises two or more days a week.

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