If you’re looking to extend your life, the timing and quantity of your meals may be the key.
New research (done on mice) by neuroscientists at UT Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute indicates that timed meals that align with sleep-wake cycles* increased the life span of mice more than three times as much compared to caloric restriction alone. The research was led by Joseph Takahashi, Ph.D. and Chair of Neuroscience of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Carla Green, Ph.D., a professor of Neuroscience. The study was published in a recent issue of Science.
According to their research:
- When allowed to eat whenever they wanted without calorie restriction, mice lived their average life span of 800 or so days.
- Limiting calories but having food available at any time added 10% to their lifespan (up to 875 days). Calories were restricted by 30 to 40%,
- Lifespan was increased to an average of 959 days when calories were limited during the inactive period of the circadian cycle.
- Providing a lower-calorie diet only in an active period of the circadian cycle increased lifespan to 1068 days, which equates to a 35% increase compared to the unrestricted mice.
Dr. Takahashi states, “It’s pretty clear that the timing of eating is important to get the most bang for your buck with calorie restriction.” Takahashi serves as one of the 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine at UT Southwestern.
Of note, there were no changes in body weight in the five low-calorie groups. While healthcare professionals often use low body weight as a benchmark of health, this study suggests that it doesn’t matter when it comes to lifespan.
In addition, the mice with the longest lifespan had improvements in insulin sensitivity as well as blood sugar management. Chronic diseases like cancer that killed the younger mice were observed at older ages in the other mice. Genetic expression tests identified less change in genes linked with inflammation, aging, and metabolism in the mice that lived longer.
Delaying aging may be a matter of adjusting meals with circadian clocks, according to Dr. Victoria Acosta-Rodriguez, Instructor of Neuroscience at UT Southwestern and lead author of the research.
For the nitty gritty of the science behind these findings, check out How Active Phase Calorie Restriction Can Increase Life Span.
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
*A.k.a. circadian cycles
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.