Fasting and Orthodoxy: Longevity in Life

Sometimes we Orthodox need a little extra push to get into the Lenten Spirit.

I saw a few items in an article in the 22 February 2016 edition of TIME, “Longevity: It’s the Little Things That Keep Us Young” written by Alexandra Sifferlin which might help jump start our leap into Lent.   Of course these aren’t the spiritual reasons we fast in the Orthodox Church, but maybe they can help convince us the benefits of Great Lent outweigh the risks.   As we can see below there are several reasons why Great Lent may have long term benefits to our bodies and souls.

1]  “In other new research, Valter Longo, director of the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute, showed that when people occasionally fasted, they lowered their risk factors for age-related diseases.”

Even only occasionally fasting showed health benefits to people in the study.  Those who start off Great Lent zealously and then falter on the way should remind themselves of this.  One doesn’t have to keep Lent perfectly to reap benefits from it.  If one falters, one doesn’t have to give up.  All is not lost!  If you have broken the fast, repent (it is the season for it!), and get back to the Lenten discipline.

2]   “But some experts speculate that fasting also makes the body more resistant to stress, which can have beneficial effects at the cellular level. Longo’s suspicion, based on his research, is that fasting kills a variety of organ and blood cells while spurring the generation of stem cells. These new cells appear to regenerate the lost cells and rejuvenate the body.”

Fasting is not meant to kill the body, but rather aims to kill sinful desires.  Fasting is heart friendly and as science shows it actually is renewing the physical body.

And speaking of the physical body, attending services, doing prostrations, even standing and fidgeting during long services have health benefits!

3]   “In other words, you can’t exercise away all the bad effects of sitting too much. But the good news is that doing anything but sitting still–even fidgeting counts–can add up.”

4]   “Your mind-set can affect how you age.   By now it’s clear to scientists that our emotions affect our biology. Studies have shown for years that anger and stress can release stress hormones like adrenaline into our blood, which trigger the heart to beat faster and harder. The new research suggests the stakes are even higher than that: stress may even have an effect on how well our brains hold up against Alzheimer’s disease.”

Repenting, asking forgiveness and forgiving can all be stress reducers.  Prayer, quiet time, meditation, all can help reduce stress.  So attending Lenten services, even if your mind wanders can have positive benefits on calming your body, getting rid of anger, and letting go of those unhealthy bad passions and desires.

Joyous Lent!