Father David Arnoldt (left) and Deacon Ken Maleck celebrate Mass in observance of Ash Wednesday at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church on Wednesday, which marks the start of the 40-day period of Lent for Christians.

The period of Lent is a time many choose to give up indulgences like chocolate or red meat, and those sacrifices can actually have both a spiritual and a health benefit, experts said.

The 40-day period of Lent began with Ash Wednesday for Catholics and other Christians. For them, it is to mark the 40 days Jesus Christ spent in the desert fasting and preparing for his public ministry. Those who observe Lent are called upon to engage in fasting, prayer and almsgiving, or charity, said Father Mark Ross, pastor of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church in Augusta.

Fasting can actually be beneficial to your body, said Lizzie Keen, a registered dietitian with Doctors Hospital of Augusta. Intermittent fasting — alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating or restricting eating to certain times — has been studied extensively.

In a recent review published in JAMA Network Open that Keen pointed to, fasting in people who were obese resulted in not only weight loss but in reduced cholesterol levels and improved blood pressure, among other benefits.

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