Sunday, July 24, 2011
Fitness in the month of Ramadan
Each year, many people aim to use the month of Ramadan for a variety of self-reforming habits including spiritual, mental, and physical changes. Fasting clearly places an emphasis on spiritual reform by gaining mastery over natural appetites. But some people also see it as an opportunity to stop smoking, overeating, and starting exercise regimes.
When fasting in summer, the stresses on the body are more extreme. There is less time for eating, praying, and sleeping in the night hours, and completing required tasks during the day can be more difficult due to heat and extended hours without sustenance. Unfortunately, many Muslims abuse their bodies in the month of Ramadan by eating unhealthy foods and overeating, and/or by abandoning all exercise due to fasting and time constraints. In addition to getting less sleep, this leads to weight gain, muscle loss, illness, and lack of energy.
Nevertheless, with careful planning, it is possible to start, maintain, or improve eating and workout habits during the month of Ramadan. A plan should incorporate both exercise and nutrition. First of all, one needs to have a proper frame of mind that food is for energy first and we should choose what we eat to provide our body with what it needs for energy. There are definitely social and pleasure aspects to eating that we also need to accommodate, but these should not be allowed to override all consideration of healthy eating. Exercise in the month of Ramadan should include strength training to help minimize muscle loss due to fasting. This applies to men and women of all ages, as strength training helps maintain or improve bone density, increases metabolism, improves body shape and posture, and may reduce depression symptoms. Aerobic or cardio exercise is necessary for health of the circulatory system and burning excess calories.
One good method for planning your eating and fitness regime for the upcoming month of Ramadan is to use or adapt an existing program. One program designed particularly for use in the month of Ramadan, although it can also be used at any time, is Fit4Ramadan. This program is detailed in an 80 page manual (a pdf e-book download available for purchase at a reasonable price) that provides everything from a strength training workout plan, complete with pictures, that does not require a lot of special gym equipment, to a detailed daily meal plan and even a grocery shopping list. This list will not include samosas, but there is information on how to allow a limited amount of the special and rather unhealthy foods you may desire during the month. It provides quality information on what is healthy to eat and what a good meal for suhoor and iftar ought to consist of. If you are already a fitness guru, you will not find a lot of new information in the Fit4Ramadan program, but it does provide a logical, doable program for a variety of fitness levels. If you want a ready-to-go program so that you do not have to reinvent the wheel, then this is a sound option.
A very much less-detailed but similar plan was written by Rehan Jalali, C.S.N.
There are a few minor differences of opinion between the two programs on matters such as caffeine and timing of workouts, but the general nutrition and exercise advice are quite alike. Both recommend consuming a daily multivitamin especially during the month of Ramadan, and both recommend that workouts take place before suhoor or after iftar and not during the fasting day. Cardio exercise may be best done before suhoor, while strength training may be good either before suhoor or after iftar. Both suggest nutrition shakes as a reasonable option for suhoor.
Neither discuss enough around getting proper sleep. Sleep deprivation is likely in the month of Ramadan, but it is still necessary to try to make allotments of time for sleep in order to maintain health, avoid weight gain, and maintain ability to perform required daily tasks while fasting. In the month of Ramadan, this may best be accomplished through a nap before maghrib whenever possible. Doing most meal preparation one day a week on a weekend day, simplifying meals, and limiting unnecessary extra work and tasks for this month may help make this possible.
A third option is to adapt your existing fitness regime or, if just starting, to adapt one that may not be specifically for the month of Ramadan. If you are an avid exerciser, particularly if you are a cardio-fanatic, you may want to scale back the intensity of workouts and focus on maintenance while fasting. But it is not necessary or healthy to avoid exercise during the month - the regular guidelines in terms of time for exercise still apply (such as the oft-recited 30 minutes a day for all adults). One example of an easy-to-adapt realistic program is the 10-Minute Total Body Breakthrough by Sean Foy. It is an extremely reasonable, adaptable, well-researched program that can easily be incorporated into your routine during the month of Ramadan. It discusses nutrition, but its focus is on a variety of simple, adaptable workouts that provide strength training and cardio benefits in a short amount of time. These workouts could easily be accomplished prior to fajr prayer without having to drastically reduce sleep time. One could also adopt a walking routine with a bit of strength training on alternate days, or adapt an exercise video or book one already has or that is readily available on the Internet. One of the best Internet resources for fitness is Sparkpeople. It is an excellent free community resource where you can find workouts, nutrition information, moral support, and track your food and fitness. A well-researched, non-fad, quality nutrition program like Weight Watchers can also be started or maintained during the month of Ramadan to help you make proper eating choices and avoid weight gain.
Some people see the month of Ramadan as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf, but starting a whole new program during a summer fast can be intimidating and unrealistic. It is a common saying that it takes 40 days for a new habit to be created or a bad one to be destroyed, and the month of Ramadan, which already requires change, may be a good beginning for many. Even if you are not interesting in making big changes in the month of Ramadan, everyone should want to avoid abusing their body in this month and gaining weight, and some will want to make fitness and nutrition gains. These goals can only be accomplished through planning. The above options provide tools for that planning so that you can have your healthiest month of Ramadan yet, which should also make it easier for you to achieve your spiritual goals during this blessed month.