Two things to keep in mind when discussing your health: Intermittent fasting and sedentary behavior.


Dr. Dorothy Sears, Associate Professor of Medicine from UCSD came to speak at the Howell Foundation's luncheon last May with pretty interesting research on 2 key concerns and how they, for sure, improve or undermine our health: intermittent fasting and sedentary behavior.

Turns out our parents were right: Eat your fruits and vegetables and exercise!  With the just released information from the CDC regarding the obesity epidemic in the US --now at 40% for women-- it is more than clear that type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease are also on the rise.  The benefits of a lifestyle makeover are clear: not only does it help to improve our health and reduce the risks of a life-changing disease, but also minimizes the adverse effects of medication while promoting healthy aging.

One of the largest studies conducted throughout a 20-year span followed over 3000 participants with pre-diabetic conditions.  Individuals were divided into 2 groups; one would be characterized through drug intervention to study its effect on diabetes, while the other would implement lifestyle changes and how it affected the participants' overall health, including intermittent fasting.  The results speak for themselves: after six months, the part of the study with the drug arm reduced type 2 diabetes factors by 38%.  The lifestyle changes intervention, 58%!

A critical part of the study included individuals over the age of 60. In that group, the lifestyle intervention program reduced type 2 diabetes risks and factors by 71%.

On the subject of simple lifestyle changes for improving our health, age does play a significant role when researching any aspect about human health.  It is no secret that most clinical trials are still excluding women. To make matters worse, current clinical trials include individuals of up to age 65.  However, it is estimated that by 2050, there will be 50 million women over the age of 65 in the US.   Women over 65 also use more healthcare than the rest of the population, making this group a significant percentage of the population we need to study.  Time to start paying attention to postmenopausal women!

Part of the lifestyle changes study included how intermittent fasting affected our health. According to Dr. Sears, the first human study to demonstrate an association of fasting yielded a very positive clinical outcome.  Following a group of over 2300 women who were cancer survivors, research showed that fasting less that 13 hours per night increased the incidence of cancer recurrence by 36%.  

The caveat is letting 12 to 13 hours from the time you eat dinner until the time you have breakfast.  What is a fact is that time restriction feeding, or intermittent fasting, in an effective intervention for losing weight and controlling health risks such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Still thinking about that late snack just before you go to bed? Don't. As a matter of fact, during the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted in 2010, results showed that each 3-hour increase in nighttime fasting significantly reduced hemoglobin/glucose and inflammation markers, definite conduits to poor health.

The second part of the equation in changing our lifestyle habits to improve our health is focused on sedentary behavior.  The action of not moving is now on par with the action of smoking.  Even though as detrimental to our health  as it is, there is yet an official guideline to be developed; and whatever resources there are, the effects of sitting are still very vague.

These are the major considerations to think about while we are sitting down:

  • Sedentary behavior is highly associated with obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Risks span over all age groups and gender.  
  • The fact that you work out for half an hour and return to sit pretty much all day is not reducing your health risks.  
  • Sedentary behavior and physical activity are not the same.  As a matter of fact, conducting some physical activity does not eliminate the adverse effects of prolonged sitting times. 

The solution? Don't just get up and move, change your sedentary behavior!  Dr. Sears' current research is focused on determining the accurate and objective measurement of sitting and standing  -- or sit-to-stand ratio-- and physical activity, the contributions of sedentary behavior to our health risks, and the biological and psychosocial outcome of sedentary behaviors and health.

If you haven't already, check out the additional benefits of exercising.

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About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:

The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is committed to keeping the women we love healthy, advancing women’s health through research and educating women to be catalysts for improving family health in the community.

The organization does so by funding scholarships to scientists researching issues affecting women’s health; providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, researchers, and authors to convey the timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health. of their families through its Lecture and Evening Series, and by funding research initiatives that will create women’s health awareness and advocacy in the community.


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