Written by: Farah Ahmed – Health & Wellness Editor
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwa [God-consciousness]”.
The Qur’an, Al-Baqarah: 183
As 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide begin preparations for the most important month of the Islamic year, the question of how to prioritize our efforts and be the most productive during these time-constrained hours remains. Here in Qatar, the fasts will be around 14 hours at most. The preparations and plans are numerous, and the reward is great. Changes to personal and occupational schedules, managing family and children, and incorporating spiritual and religious targets, are inevitable in our busy Ramadans.
Ramadan is a deeply spiritual time, requiring us to redirect our focus to the Creator. It is an opportunity to develop qualities of abstinence, endurance, and self-restraint. It is a time for resetting our intentions and modifying our actions. Fasting does not mean neglecting our daily routines entirely. Rather, we are encouraged to continue with our usual activities, and therein lies the challenge of patience, stamina, and time management. Success is possible on an empty stomach.
Positive effects of fasting
Fasting is a prophetically inspired way of cleansing not only the mind but also the body. Research has shown that fasting can help normalize insulin sensitivity (the primary contributing factor to major chronic illness), balance key hormones, and lower triglyceride levels, which are associated with heart disease. Perhaps most importantly, fasting allows your digestive tract to rest and heal.
Hippocrates, the founding father of medicine, used fasting as his first tool for helping a patient to heal. A break from eating food essentially allows the body to spend less time and resources on the high-energy task of digestion, which means it has a greater capacity to focus on activities that benefit us in other ways, such as repairing and rebuilding tissues.
Planning is key
Our physical wellness during this month is paramount. Our bodies need adequate sleep, food for nutrition, and strength through fitness for optimal performance. Fasting affects all of these and demands a change in our lifestyles. Thoughtful eating and maintaining adequate fitness may be the last thing on your mind, yet ultimately they provide the stamina needed to determine success in this month.
So how do we fit all this in, you may ask?
The prescription for success is planning ahead.
People tend to put on weight in Ramadan due to over-indulgence and idleness. Rather than negating the positive effects of fasting through ill-informed choices, we should benefit from them by choosing the right habits.
- Make sure you eat suhoor (pre-dawn meal) which has barakah (blessings) in it according to the sunnah. What you eat in the morning dictates how you will fare the rest of the day. This meal will sustain you for the fast ahead, so choose high-fiber whole grains when possible, as these tend to be digested more slowly. These include oats, brown rice, and barley.
- Eat a balanced iftar. This fast-breaking meal should start with dates, again in accordance with the sunnah. Dates will provide a nourishing burst of much-needed energy. Hydrating fruits–such as watermelon, pineapple, or berries–will have a similar re-vitalizing effect.
- Eat well, but avoid lavish meals that take excessive amounts of time to prepare and even more energy to digest. Do not over eat, and do not be wasteful.
- Focus on eating organic and nourishing whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, greens, oily fish, poultry, and grains, and be creative with these. Prepare wholesome soups and hearty salads. Eat foods that are not only halal, but tayyab (pure), as this is a time of spiritual and physical purity.
- Avoid greasy fried foods which put a strain on your digestive system. Also avoid processed foods, high-sugar foods, and canned drinks. These will result in a sharp drop in energy levels after an initial high, which will leave you feeling drained.
- Make a food plan for the week. Plan your grocery shops by making a list and sticking to it. Don’t get caught unprepared, as this may lead to ordering in junk food.
- Stay hydrated. Ensure adequate hydration. Drink at least 2 liters of water a day, not all at once, but gradually, during the non-fasting hours. Keep a re-usable bottle of water with you during taraweeh prayers (additional prayers offered in the evenings) to sip on. Coconut water is also great for hydration as it contributes to restoring electrolyte balance in the body.
If you don’t normally eat clean, this is a great time to start. Ramadan is the prime opportunity to replace bad habits with better ones. Our bodies have been given to us as an amanah (trust) and so it is our responsibility to ensure they are adequately maintained.
Exercising in Ramadan
Ultimately, exercise is dependent on time and energy–two things that are limited in Ramadan. As with all aspects of Islam, moderation is best.
Although time is limited and it may not seem like a priority, exercising with the intention to strengthen one’s body in order to please God and worship Him better causes it to become an ibadah (act of worship).
The best time to exercise is very personal and very much dependent on how you as an individual deal with the daily fasts. Some prefer to exercise shortly after a light iftar, some an hour before, and others late in the evening once you have digested your main meal. All of these are great times to exercise.
Key considerations before and after exercising are hydration and eating the right foods. If exercising before iftar, make sure you stay out of the sun. Whatever the frequency of exercise, timing, or intensity you choose, try to ensure your body has sufficient energy.
Wishing you all a blessed and fruitful Ramadan in 2018!