Eating less could help not only your wallet, but also your heart, according to a new study.
Previous research has shown that low calorie diets in laboratory rodents extended their lives by 30 to 40 percent, compared to rodents eating standard diets.
Some people have latched onto this idea as a way to live longer—or just healthier—sometimes eating 30 percent fewer calories than the normal Western diet. The long-term effects of this type of diet in humans, however, are unknown.
In a recent study, published in the journal Aging Cell, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine monitored the hearts of 22 people who had been eating a calorie-restricted diet for seven years.
Specifically, researchers looked at heart rate variability. Throughout the day, the heart normally pumps at different speeds as it adapts to activities like exercise, stress, and sleep.
As we age, heart rate variability decreases when the cardiovascular system becomes less flexible. Low variability is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers expect that this measurement will also tell them a lot about the autonomic nervous system, which controls heart rate, digestion, breathing, and other involuntary functions.
In the study, people on low calorie diets had lower heart rates than people who ate standard diets. In addition, their heart rate variability was similar to what you’d expect in people 20 years younger.
These changes match what researchers have seen in rodents. It’s too soon to tell whether cutting out a third of your meals can help you live longer, but you can be certain that missing the occasional donut or latte won’t kill you.