People who fast regularly are less likely to experience heart failure and may live longer than their peers who do not, according to two new studies of a religious population.

Study participants included members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons, who traditionally fast for 24 hours one day each month. Participants had all been evaluated for heart disease.

The first study found that routine fasters who had a cardiac catheterization procedure had a 45% lower mortality rate than members of the study group who didn’t fast. A follow-up study found that the routine fasters were 71% less likely to experience heart failure than non-fasters.

In each case, the researchers said they were surprised by the results. “[I]t’s a more profound effect than we anticipated,” said epidemiologist Benjamin Horne, Ph.D., from Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City, regarding the longevity study.

Intermittent fasting has become a popular health trend. It encourages people to restrict eating to eight to 12 hours a day and to fast for the remaining 12 to 16 hours. In comparison, participants in the two new studies went for longer periods without food on fasting days. The accumulated hours of fasting over an average of 42 years may have contributed to the positive outcomes, Horne theorized.

The heart failure and longevity studies were published in the journal Circulation.