Limited Eating Times Could Be a New Way to Fight Obesity and Diabetes
A time-restricted eating plan provides a new way to fight obesity and metabolic diseases that affect millions of people worldwide. RossHelen / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Satchin Panda and Pam Taub
People with obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure or high cholesterol are often advised to eat less and move more, but our new research suggests there is now another simple tool to fight off these diseases: restricting your eating time to a daily 10-hour window.
We are scientists — a cell biologist and a cardiologist — and are exploring the effects of the timing of nutrition on health. Results from flies and mice led us and others to test the idea of time-restricted eating in healthy people. Studies lasting more than a year showed that TRE was safe among healthy individuals. Next, we tested time-restricted eating in patients with conditions known collectively as metabolic syndrome. We were curious to see if this approach, which had a profound impact on obese and diabetic lab rats, can help millions of patients who suffer from early signs of diabetes, high blood pressure and unhealthy blood cholesterol.
A Leap From Prevention to Treatment
It's not easy to count calories or figure out how much fat, carbohydrates and protein are in every meal. That's why using TRE provides a new strategy for fighting obesity and metabolic diseases that affect millions of people worldwide. Several studies had suggested that TRE is a lifestyle choice that healthy people can adopt and that can reduce their risk for future metabolic diseases.
However, TRE is rarely tested on people already diagnosed with metabolic diseases. Furthermore, the vast majority of patients with metabolic diseases are often on medication, and it was not clear whether it was safe for these patients to go through daily fasting of more than 12 hours – as many experiments require – or whether TRE will offer any benefits in addition to those from their medications.
In a unique collaboration between our basic science and clinical science laboratories, we tested whether restricting eating to a 10-hour window improved the health of people with metabolic syndrome who were also taking medications that lower blood pressure and cholesterol to manage their disease.
We recruited patients from UC San Diego clinics who met at least three out of five criteria for metabolic syndrome: obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high level of bad cholesterol and low level of good cholesterol. The patients used a research app called myCircadianClock, developed in our lab, to log every calorie they consumed for two weeks. This helped us to find patients who were more likely to spread their eating out over the span of 14 hours or more and might benefit from 10-hour TRE.
We monitored their physical activity and sleep using a watch worn on the wrist. As some patients with bad blood glucose control may experience low blood glucose at night, we also placed a continuous glucose monitor on their arm to measure blood glucose every few minutes for two weeks.
Nineteen patients qualified for the study. Most of them had already tried standard lifestyle interventions of reducing calories and doing more physical activity. As part of this study, the only change they had to follow was to self-select a window of 10 hours that best suited their work-family life to eat and drink all of their calories, say from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Drinking water and taking medications outside this window were allowed. For the next 12 weeks they used the myCircadianClock app, and for the last two weeks of the study they also had the continuous glucose monitor and activity monitor.
Timing Is the Medicine
After 12 weeks, the volunteers returned to the clinic for a thorough medical examination and blood tests. We compared their final results with those from their initial visit. The results, which we published in Cell Metabolism, were pleasantly surprising. We found most of them lost a modest amount of body weight, particularly fat from their abdominal region. Those who had high blood glucose levels when fasting also reduced these blood sugar levels. Similarly, most patients further reduced their blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. All of these benefits happened without any change in physical activity.
Reducing the time window of eating also had several inadvertent benefits. On average, patients reduced their daily caloric intake by a modest 8%. However, statistical analyses did not find strong association between calorie reduction and health improvement. Similar benefits of TRE on blood pressure and blood glucose control were also found among healthy adults who did not change caloric intake.
Nearly two-thirds of patients also reported restful sleep at night and less hunger at bedtime – similar to what was reported in other TRE studies on relatively healthier cohorts. While restricting all eating to just a six-hour window was hard for participants and caused several adverse effects, patients reported they could easily adapt to eating within a 10-hour span. Although it was not necessary after completion of the study, nearly 70% of our patients continued with the TRE for at least a year. As their health improved, many of them reported having reduced their medication or stopped some medication.
Despite the success of this study, time-restricted eating is not currently a standard recommendation from doctors to their patients who have metabolic syndrome. This study was a small feasibility study; more rigorous randomized control trials and multiple location trials are necessary next steps. Toward that goal, we have started a larger study on metabolic syndrome patients.
Although we did not see any of our patients go through dangerously low levels of glucose during overnight fasting, it is important that time-restricted eating be practiced under medical supervision. As TRE can improve metabolic regulation, it is also necessary that a physician pays close attention to the health of the patient and adjusts medications accordingly.
We are cautiously hopeful that time-restricted eating can be a simple, yet powerful approach to treating people with metabolic diseases.
Satchin Panda is a professor of regulatory biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and an adjunct professor of cell and developmental biology at UCSD, University of California San Diego.
Pam Taub is an associate professor of Medicine at the University of California San Diego
Disclosure statement: Satchin Panda receives funding from the National Institute of Health, Department of Defense, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Helmsley Charitable trust, Robertwood Johnson Foundation, and Glenn Foundation for Medical Research. He is the author of the book "The Circadian Code" for which he receives author royalty. Satchin Panda is a founding member of the Center for Circadian Biology at UC San Diego.
Pam Taub receives funding from NIDDK, American Heart Association, Department of Defense.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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