Seniors face unique health challenges such as obesity, loss of muscle mass, and declining cognitive function. They are also at a higher risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease (3).
Some of these risks can be mitigated through dietary changes and regular exercise. Contrary to popular opinion, seniors can successfully adopt intermittent fasting as a means of improving their overall health.
The 16/8 method is an excellent option as it’s flexible, easy to follow, and has been proven to promote weight loss and improve metabolic health. It involves fasting for 16 hours and eating during an eight-hour window each day.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to the benefits of 16/8 intermittent fasting for seniors, including meal plans and practical tips to get started.
Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy for the Elderly?
IF can be healthy for adults, particularly when done under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Studies with a specific focus on seniors are limited and most IF research focuses on younger individuals.
However, drawing from the positive effects of IF on a variety of health markers in other populations, it can be assumed that seniors will also benefit from this eating pattern.
Intermittent fasting for seniors may benefit them in the following ways:
Promotes Weight Loss
Obesity is a growing concern among seniors and traditional weight loss methods may not always work for this age group, for several reasons.
Let’s take the example of a 65-year-old woman who leads a sedentary lifestyle and consumes approximately 1,800 calories per day. Her BMI places her in the “overweight” category, but she may not be considered obese by general standards.
However, as we age, our muscle mass decreases while our fat accumulation increases (11). This means that although the scale may not reflect significant weight gain, our body composition is changing and putting us at greater risk for health issues.
IF can help seniors lose weight by reducing their calorie intake, increasing fat burning, and improving metabolism (10). It’s also a sustainable approach that doesn’t require strict dieting or counting calories.
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Preserves Lean Muscle Mass
Aging causes a decline in muscle mass and the ripple effect is decreased strength, balance, and mobility. This increases the risk of falls and fractures, which leads to decreased independence and quality of life (2).
IF, particularly short fasts, can stimulate the production of human growth hormone (HGH) and increase insulin sensitivity (6) (14). This may help preserve lean muscle mass and slow the effects of aging to a certain extent.
However, there is one caveat: seniors must ensure they consume enough protein during their eating window. There’s a very good reason why protein is often referred to as the “building block of life”.
Studies have shown that a higher protein intake in seniors can help preserve muscle mass, strength, and physical performance (12). Doing strength training exercises in a safe and appropriate way can also help preserve muscle mass and bone density.
Improves Cognitive Function
Aging is also linked to a decline in cognitive function, which can manifest as memory loss, difficulty concentrating, or reduced problem-solving abilities (13).
Studies (mostly in animals) have suggested that intermittent fasting can improve brain function by increasing the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes brain cell growth and protects against brain-related diseases (7).
In addition, IF has been linked to improved mood and decreased inflammation in the brain (15). Both of these factors can contribute to better cognitive function in seniors.
It’s important to note that these aren’t overnight fixes. A consistent, sustainable practice of IF will need to be followed to reap these potential benefits. This brings us to why 16/8 fasting for seniors is ideal – it is because it can be sustained in the long term without causing any extreme changes.
Meal Plans for 16/8 Intermittent Fasting for Seniors
The nutritional needs of seniors may differ to those of younger adults and this should be considered when following a 16/8 intermittent fasting plan.
Firstly, it’s important to ensure that seniors get enough nutrients during their eating window, particularly protein. This can be achieved by incorporating lean proteins such as chicken, fish, eggs, and legumes into meals.
Secondly, hydration is crucial for seniors as our thirst sensation decreases with age. They are encouraged to drink plenty of water during their eating window and limit their caffeine intake as this can contribute to dehydration.
Here are two examples of 5-day meal plans that may work well for seniors who are following the 16/8 method. One intermittent fasting meal plan is for those who prefer three main meals a day, while the other is for those who prefer two larger meals and a snack.
Three Meals a Day
- 8 am (Breakfast): Greek yogurt with berries and almonds
- 12 pm (Lunch): Chicken breast with roasted vegetables and quinoa
- 4 pm (Dinner): Baked fish with steamed broccoli and brown rice
- 8 am (Breakfast): Avocado toast with smoked salmon and a hard-boiled egg
- 12 pm (Lunch): Turkey and vegetable stir-fry with whole grain noodles
- 4 pm (Dinner): Lentil soup and a side salad
- 8 am (Breakfast): Oatmeal with almond butter, chia seeds, and fresh fruit
- 12 pm (Lunch): Tuna salad on whole grain crackers with carrot sticks
- 4 pm (Dinner): Baked chicken with sweet potato and green beans
- 8 am (Breakfast): Spinach and mushroom frittata with whole grain toast
- 12 pm (Lunch): Grilled shrimp with quinoa and roasted vegetables
- 4 pm (Dinner): Beef and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice
- 8 am (Breakfast): Whole grain waffles with peanut butter and sliced banana
- 12 pm (Lunch): Vegetable soup with a side of whole grain bread
- 4 pm (Dinner): Baked salmon with asparagus and whole grain couscous
Two Larger Meals and a Snack
- 10 am (Brunch): Scrambled eggs with avocado and whole grain toast
- 2 pm (Dinner): Grilled chicken with roasted sweet potatoes and green beans
- 6 pm (Snack): Hummus and vegetable platter
- 10 am (Brunch): Whole grain pancakes with Greek yogurt and fresh berries
- 2 pm (Dinner): Baked fish with quinoa and steamed vegetables
- 6 pm (Snack): Apple slices with almond butter
- 10 am (Brunch): Omelet with spinach, mushrooms, and feta cheese
- 2 pm (Dinner): Turkey chili with whole grain crackers and a side salad
- 6 pm (Snack): Greek yogurt with granola and honey
- 10 am (Brunch): Whole grain French toast with lean turkey bacon and fresh fruit
- 2 pm (Dinner): Grilled shrimp skewers with brown rice and roasted vegetables
- 6 pm (Snack): Carrot sticks with hummus
- 10 am (Brunch): Vegetable and cheese omelet with whole grain toast
- 2 pm (Dinner): Grilled chicken Caesar salad with whole grain croutons
- 6 pm (Snack): Mixed nuts and dried fruit trail mix
How Long Does it Take for Intermittent Fasting to Work?
Seniors may feel the effects of intermittent fasting within a few weeks, but the full benefits may take longer to manifest.
Initially, some seniors may experience fatigue, irritability, or difficulty concentrating during the fasting period. This is normal and should subside as the body adjusts to the new eating pattern.
Once the body has adapted to intermittent fasting, seniors may notice increased energy levels, improved cognitive function, and better overall health (4) (9). That being said, intermittent fasting is not a quick fix and should be practiced consistently and safely to achieve long-term results.
Should a 70-Year-Old Do Intermittent Fasting?
The term “seniors” applies to all individuals aged 60 and above, so a 70-year-old can definitely practice intermittent fasting as long as they are in good health.
However, certain factors need to be considered and intermittent fasting for seniors over 70 is not advisable if:
- They have pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or any condition where regular medication is required.
- They are underweight or have a history of eating disorders. Intermittent fasting may exacerbate these conditions and cause unhealthy weight loss.
- They experience dizziness, fainting spells, or extreme fatigue if they do not eat regularly.
- They are taking medications that must be taken with food. The timings of these medications may clash with the fasting schedule.
- They have been advised by a doctor or registered dietitian not to fast due to a specific health condition or specific nutritional needs.
- They are not comfortable with the idea of fasting or find it too stressful. Mental well-being is of equal importance to physical health, and any dietary changes should add to their quality of life, not detract from it.
Intermittent fasting for a 65-year-old woman is also a possibility, as long as all the above factors are considered. It is important to note that women’s nutritional needs may differ to men’s and this should also be factored in when planning an intermittent fasting meal plan.
Anyone who is considering intermittent fasting should discuss it with their healthcare provider first to determine whether and how they can approach it safely.
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Tips for Seniors Starting 16/8 Intermittent Fasting
Starting any new diet or lifestyle change can be a challenge, particularly for seniors who may have dietary restrictions or concerns. Here are some tips to help make the transition to 16/8 intermittent fasting easier and more sustainable:
- Consult a healthcare professional before starting IF, particularly if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications.
- Start slowly and gradually increase the fasting window to allow your body to adjust.
- Keep hydrated during the fasting period by drinking plenty of water and herbal teas.
- If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, break your fast with a small snack such as fruit or a handful of nuts.
- Don’t mix IF with other restrictive diets or intense exercise routines, such as low-carb intermittent fasting, unless advised to do so by a healthcare professional.
- Pay attention to how the new eating pattern makes you feel and adjust it accordingly. If you notice any negative changes, you should consult a healthcare professional.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the 5:2 diet for seniors?
The 5:2 diet, also known as the Fast Diet, involves eating normally for five days and limiting calorie intake to 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days in a week (1).
It is a form of intermittent fasting that can be suitable for some seniors, as long as they are in good health and have consulted their healthcare professional beforehand.
On fasting days, you should aim to consume nutrient-dense foods that will keep you satiated without exceeding your calorie limit.
How can a 70-year-old lose weight fast?
The best way a 70-year-old can safely and sustainably lose weight is by combining a balanced diet with regular, gentle exercise. Crash diets and rapid weight loss schemes can be harmful, particularly for seniors.
Instead, seniors should focus on consuming lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, while also maintaining a moderate exercise routine that includes walking, swimming, or light strength training.
How many calories should a 65-year-old woman eat to lose weight?
The number of calories a 65-year-old woman needs to achieve weight loss varies based on individual factors such as activity level, metabolism, and overall health. However, approximately 1,200-1,500 calories per day is recommended, depending on the daily energy needs of the individual.
It’s important to focus on nutrient-dense foods while limiting ultra-processed and high-calorie foods for sustainable weight loss (16).
It should be noted that extreme calorie restriction is not recommended for seniors as this can lead to nutrient deficiencies and other health issues.
What are the healthiest intermittent fasting hours?
The healthiest intermittent fasting hours are those that don’t leave you deprived of essential nutrients for prolonged periods.
The 16/8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours and eating during an eight-hour window, is a popular choice as it allows for regular meals while giving the body a break from digestion.
However, the most suitable schedule may vary depending on your specific health needs and lifestyle.
The Bottom Line
16/8 intermittent fasting can be a beneficial lifestyle change for seniors who are looking to improve their overall health and well-being. It offers several potential benefits, including improved brain function, better metabolic health, and weight management.
However, a 16/8 fasting schedule may not be suitable for seniors with certain medical conditions, so it is highly recommended that you consult a healthcare professional before starting.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A randomised controlled trial of the 5:2 diet (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- A Review on Aging, Sarcopenia, Falls, and Resistance Training in Community-Dwelling Older Adults (2022, mdpi.com)
- Age-Related Diseases and Clinical and Public Health Implications for the 85 Years Old and Over Population (2017, frontiersin.org)
- Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting: a narrative review (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) m
- Causes, consequences, and reversal of immune system aging (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man (1988, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Intermittent fasting and cognitive performance – Targeting BDNF as potential strategy to optimise brain health (2022, sciencedirect.com)
- Intermittent fasting and immunomodulatory effects: A systematic review (2023, frontiersin.org)
- Intermittent Fasting and Metabolic Health (2022, mdpi.com)
- Intermittent fasting and weight loss (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Muscle tissue changes with aging (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Protein Source and Muscle Health in Older Adults: A Literature Review (2021, mdpi.com)
- The aging mind: A complex challenge for research and practice (2023, sciencedirect.com)
- The Effectiveness of Intermittent Fasting to Reduce Body Mass Index and Glucose Metabolism: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2019, mdpi.com)
- The Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Brain and Cognitive Function (2021, mdpi.com)
- Weight-Loss and Maintenance Strategies – Weight Management (2004, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)