The concept of fasts isn't too unfamiliar for us; though, for most of us it carries a religious connotation. Fasting traditions are typically handed down generations, with all the family members, starting with the grandparents to the children observing the fasts. Be it a weekly ritual or an annual event i.e. festivals. What's interesting is that these age-old practices have a lot of science behind them. Fasting has been scientifically proven to prevent and cure many ailments. It's an old world version of the modern day 'cleanse' or 'detox'
Think of fasting like a long distance running event, there are various versions and degrees of difficulty. Just like these events have a 6k going up to 42k; fasts can last a day, span a week, or stretch across an entire month. As you have a triathlon, duathlon; fasts have varying levels of restrictions and allowances. For example, some fasts allow consumption of fruits and/or certain foods during fasts. The more complex fasts are done by completely abstaining from food or water. The meal timings vary considerably with the longer fasts (lasting > 3-4 days) typically involving eating just one meal a day.
Whatever the definition, fasting is an aberration for your body. Yes, fasting helps your body detoxify and rejuvenate, but only if it's done right. With age, our body slows down and loses some of its vitality, becoming more vulnerable to even minor disturbances in diet and routine. This shows how important it is for older adults to take special precautions while fasting so that optimum health benefits of fasting can be reaped.
Much like a marathon, you can prep your body to handle fasting better. Let's delve into the "how" and "why" of healthy fasting.
Tips for Healthy Fasting
The body doesn't get its standard quota of sugars on time, so it looks for alternatives. This is when the body's "glycogen reserve" (glucose stored in the liver) is mobilized. Hence, it's crucial to store a lot of glycogen so that your body isn't left high and dry during the fast. The older you get, the more relevant this becomes as your capacity of processing sugars lowers. Another important reason for ensuring good glycogen stores is to prevent ketosis (forced fat burning when you run out of glycogen).
So, pig out on carbohydrate-rich foods the night before! Take your pick from dairy, grains, potato, corn, and fruits! If your fast allows fruits or other carbs, nibble on these every few hours. Choose high-fibre fruits like apple, guava, and strawberries that provide a slow, steady stream of glucose during the fast.
A Pinch of Salt
With all this talk about sugar levels, let's not forget salt levels! Prolonged salt restriction may dip your blood pressure and cause hypotension, making you feel dizzy or faint. Again as you grow older, you need to be more vigilant with this to steer clear of fatigue and hypotension. The best way to deal with this is to keep a salt-sugar solution handy to quickly restore your vitals if this happens.
Eating less reduces thirst, but you still need to drink enough water. If your fast allows water, drink a glassful every 2 hours. A 1/2-day waterless fast shouldn't be a problem if your body is generally well hydrated. But, no water for more than 48 hours can seriously upset your water-salt balance and spell trouble, especially in the summers! Moreover, research has shown that the older you get, the higher your tendency to drink less water (than recommended) becomes. This is why gulping water is critical. Eating juicy fruits may be a good way to keep yourself hydrated on a waterless fast.
Most "fasting foods" involve heavy use of oil coupled with low fibre intake. While this is likely to mess up digestion in people of all ages, the risk increases with age because the body's metabolism slows down, digestion becomes poor, and therefore, chances of acidity are higher. So, here's what you can do: avoid these oily foods or balance them out with equal portions of fresh fruits, and gulp lots of water. Also, avoid tobacco, tea, and coffee before and during the fast to prevent acidity (more likely on an empty tummy).
Ask the Doc
Upsetting your normal diet has its own consequences, if you have a health condition or are taking medicines, check with your doctor if you can fast. If yes, ask how you can work around your drug schedule without compromising your health.
Come out flying
The importance of fasting lies not only in fasting correctly, but also, in breaking it properly. During the fast, your body relaxes, your organs unwind, and your digestive system remains chilled out. Basically, your body hits the "snooze" button. You don't really want to jerk it awake, right? So, start with fruits or juices to ease yourself back into regular eating. Nothing oily, acidity-causing, or difficult to digest for a day should do the trick.
Follow these pointers and you'll find getting to the finish line might not be all that hard.
Disclaimer: This publication / editorial / article does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any Products. Please consult your doctor/ healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.