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Fast for longevity

17 August 2012


LIBERATED for a season from those chains that bind the con­temporary churchperson - those hours slumped in front of the word processor, or over the photocopier, or (in my case) before the TV - this is the season when we can restore our systems. Exercise in the open air, regular injections of good food and wine - that should do the trick. Except that Eat, Fast and Live Longer (BBC2, Monday of last week) suggests the opposite.

Michael Mosley was on a quest: as he approaches middle age, he sought the most up-to-date re­search on how he might stay younger longer. He found a simple answer: eat far less than you want to.

In the Great Depression in the United States, when people were really hungry, life expectancy in­creased by six years. He met people who ate great breakfasts of fruit (just the peel of apples, because that is where all the nutrition lies), and, for the rest of the day, nothing. Tests showed them to be super­human. Others recommend a fast of four days, which he tried to good effect. But the most startling results come from the 2/5 regime. For two days a week, you limit yourself to 600 calories, and for the other five you can eat whatever (and as much of it as) takes your fancy.

Not only did this, after five weeks' trial, deliver a marked im­provement in a wide range of health indicators, showing a huge reduction in the likelihood of Mosley's succumbing to heart dis­ease, but it also significantly en­hanced his brain function. It seems likely that this derives from our hunter-gatherer ancestry. Meals were sporadic; so hunger forced the body and the brain to repair itself, to grow new cells, to sharpen up its act to maximise the chance of finding another source of food.

For a brief moment, I wondered whether I would give it a try. But then I remembered those times when lovingly prepared quiche and sausage rolls after this, that, or the other meeting are the only sus­tenance on offer, and realised that it would be ungracious to refuse. This stylish programme was marred only by its failure to consult those who actually know what fasting is all about: monks and nuns.

Channel 5 broadcast one very positive message on the coat-tails of the Olympics. Fatima Whitbread: Growing up in care (Wednesday of last week) was, first, a personal journey, in which she revisited the places where she had suffered as a result of her abandonment by abusive parents, and showed her love for her foster parents. Second, it was a plea to young people to be inspired by her success, and to all of us to consider becoming fosterers. This was moving and topical.

Wonderland: Young, bright and on the Right (BBC2, Thursday of last week) presented a contrasting kind of young persons' achieve­ment against the odds. Joseph Cook and Chris Monk were committed to, respectively, the Oxford and the Cambridge University Conservative Associations. Cook had been the president, but suffered ruthless skulduggery; Monk was desperate to be elected to the committee.

The interesting thing was that both were rank outsiders. It seemed that they craved success in this un­fashionable milieu to overcome what they felt to be the terrible stigma of their comprehensive-school education. My initial ap­palled fascination turned to pity.

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