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Exercise in Ramadan: a Rough Guide

EXERCISE IN RAMADAN

Ramadan is a perfect opportunity to “reset” oneself mentally, physically and spiritually. These three pillars of health are intertwined, each one profoundly affecting the other and rarely does a chance arise where we can attend to all three together!

Before going into detail, some basics facts to be aware of:

  • Ramadan is the month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims intermittently fast (no food, no water/drink, no smoking) from sunrise to sunset daily for about 30 days.
  • Most Muslims will consume 2 meals a day: Suhoor (pre-sunrise) and Iftaar (post sunset).
  • In the UK this year(2015) Ramadan starts around 18th June and the fasting period lasts 18-20hrs depending on location.
  • All Muslims of good health (mind and body) are required to fast but there are concessions for those who are ill, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, young children and those for whom fasting may be detrimental to health (uncontrolled, unstable chronic conditions e.g. diabetes, kidney disease, asthma etc).

The focus of Ramadan is clearly spiritual but neglecting our bodies physically will only reduce the potential detoxification benefits to our mind, body and soul. There are three key and modifiable aspects to a healthy and fulfilling experience of Ramadan:

1.Food Choices dates and water

The guidance for diet in Ramadan is no different from a healthy diet any other time of the year but there are specific tips and planning ideas to avoid some common complications of the fast. It is best to start making small adjustments to diet 4-8 weeks in advance. Not only will it be beneficial for fasting, but you will find it easier to use those healthy habits afterwards.

2.Sleep Deprivation

Altered circadian rhythm and disrupted hormonal responses (1) caused by the change in sleep pattern and food intake contribute to daytime sleepiness, low mood, irritability and reduced performance(2). Movement and thought processes seem slower and can lead to bad decisions and higher risk of accidents. The fasts are long this year, so be sure to catch up on sleep even in short bursts, e.g. 30  minutes in the lunch hour, when you get home from work etc.

3.Physical activity

girl runningExercise and activity is often the furthest thing from your mind during this month but it is vital to stay active  and reduce sitting time for good health. This is best achieved by planning and preparation before Ramadan. You can build up gradually to at least 30minutes of moderate aerobic activity five times weekly for optimal health benefits. Ramadan is certainly not the time to start a new intense or challenging regime, but refraining from all physical activity is not beneficial either.

EXERCISE CONSIDERATIONS

muslim couple walkingWe all know exercise works to prevent, improve or control many health conditions. It is also fun and feels great. But what about during Ramadan? Religious duties, family and friends take priority but you can still maintain your fitness levels or at least remain as active as your body allows. Exercise in Ramadan is less about going to the gym, or having a structured program but rather incorporating some physical activity into your daily life. The key to safe exercising in Ramadan is to adjust your routine and listen to YOUR body. During the day (while fasting) focus on maintaining normal activities and catching up on sleep with short power naps.

This guide is not intended to replace any medical advice specific to you but to give you some helpful tips and key pointers.

Key points:

Intense, even moderate, exercise while in the Ramadan fasting-state is not recommended for the general population due to risk of dehydration and hypoglycaemia

There are swathes of information available on the internet about intermittent fasting and exercise. Most are personal experiences and anecdotal and sometimes refer to fasts where water intake is not limited so be cautious in taking such advice.shutterstock footballers

Muslim sports professionals and elite athletes can, and often do, maintain training regimes while fasting without significant health or performance issues(3), as long as they maintain appropriate total daily calorie, nutritional and water intake.

However, the vast majority of us ARE NOT lean, finely-tuned fitness machines with optimal nutritional diets, support from experienced coaches and a career that depends on exercise! So save your training until after breaking the fast and always keep a bottle of water on the go!

The best time to do weights would be between sunset and sunrise, after having broken the fast with a light meal and then eating again after training. You should reduce the duration and intensity of your workout using lighter weights and reduced reps.

Cardio can be done after a light Iftaar or 1-2 hours after a heavier meal. Pre-Suhoor is another possible workout time though perhaps only for the highly motivated. Too much cardio will increase the chances of muscle breakdown so reduce the intensity, frequency and duration of the workout. Walk instead of jog if needed and a maximum of 30 minutes is still beneficial. Alternatively, if you are already used to High Intensity Training, you could opt to do a 10minute burst of HIT.

man doing yogaProbably the best solution during Ramadan is a short bodyweight circuit (compound moves like squats, lunges, press-ups, dips, plank etc) which works well to give maximum impact in minimum time. You could also use the month to work on aspects of fitness you normally don’t have time for: Yoga for flexibility, Pilates for posture and core strength or Tai Chi for focus and balance.

Only low intensity physical activities like a gentle walk, gentle Yoga or stretching can be done 30 minutes before breaking the fast. Beginners and fitness fanatics alike may find this particularly re-energising though be wary of going outdoors in the heat as you will already be dehydrated and low in blood sugars.

If you do decide to exercise, do not put yourself at risk of injury or exhaustion by doing too much, too often. Ensure you have adequate sleep, be flexible, keep hydrated and stop when you need to.

During a Ramadan fast you will be dehydrated more than normal at rest(4). This year in the UK we will be without water for almost 20 hours! Exercising increases the risk of severe dehydration which is detrimental to health . For most of us, that means resting the body becomes crucial and for fitness enthusiasts, training after sunset becomes the only real option. Physiological adaptations occur so that the extent of dehydration at rest decreases as Ramadan progresses which may mean you find it easier to start getting active a few days into the month. Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of dehydration and hypoglycaemia (low blood sugars) and what to do if you suffer any. Avoid strenuous activity outdoors during the day, especially in the heat.

You must see your doctor for a Pre-Ramadan assessment if you have ANY health conditions Diabetics, and those with heart or kidney disease, asthmatics, etc MUST have a medical assessment 4-8 weeks before Ramadan commences for specific, individualised advice on fasting safely, medication adjustments and advice on diet and physical activity. Most Muslims are reluctant to avoid fasting, even if they have chronic conditions and providing Ramadan-focussed education has been shown to empower patients to make healthy lifestyle changes minimising hypoglycaemic events and preventing weight gain(5). Use the resources at the end to help you stay healthy and safe.

healthy food

Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Aim to drink 2L of water in the non-fasting period. Keep a bottle of water beside you and sip regularly

Make sure you get a balanced, nutritional diet incorporating protein, complex carbs and healthy fats in both meals. Try and maintain a healthy calorie intake and don’t skip the pre-sunrise meal.

 

woman yogaExercise during Ramadan is not meant to be difficult or exhausting and instead of placing stress on yourself, try and enjoy more therapeutic, restorative exercises that focus on mind-body connection. You may find something new you love!

Your Ramadan experience will be unique to YOU. Speaking from personal experience, the fitter and more health conscious you are BEFORE Ramadan, the more likely you are to make healthier food choices, remain active and generally feel better DURING and AFTER Ramadan

happy muslim familyIt’s never too late to get started, so set aside time to prepare, get motivated and get moving! Every little bit of activity counts no matter what your age, race, religion or health condition and will help you throughout life, not just Ramadan.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and fulfilling Ramadan!

 

Resources for health care professionals and the general public:

Ramadan Health Guide: an excellent all round guide for patients or medical practitioners www.ramadan.co.uk/RamadhanHealth_Guide.pdf

Excellent, concise guide for Medical Practitioners, DOH funded. Who should and who shouldn’t fast http://www.communitiesinaction.org/Aide%20Memoir.pdf

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde: Ramadan and your diabetic patients. A more detailed resource pack for Medical Practitioners inc risk stratification for diabetics and drug dosage/schedule adjustment http://library.nhsggc.org.uk/mediaAssets/My%20HSD/2011-05-31-RAMADAN_RESOURCE_PACK.pdf

Healthy tips for Ramadan: general information, FAQs , smoking cessation. http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/healthyramadan/Pages/healthyramadanhome.aspx

Muslin Council of Britain. Ramadan and Diabetes, a guide for patients. Great for GPs too http://www.staffordshireandstokeontrent.nhs.uk/Ramadan%20Health%20Guide.pdf

Fasting and asthma http://www.asthma.org.uk/fasting-and-asthma

 

 

References:

1. BaHammam A, Alrajeh M, Albabtain M, Bahammam S, Sharif M. Circadian pattern of sleep, energy expenditure, and body temperature of young healthy men during the intermittent fasting of Ramadan.

2.Roky R, Houti I, Moussamih S, Qotbi S,Aadil N .Physiological and chronobiological changes during Ramadan intermittent fasting

3. Chaouachi A, Leiper JB, Chtourou H, Aziz AR, Chamari K.The effects of Ramadan intermittent fasting on athletic performance: recommendations for the maintenance of physical fitness.

4.Leiper JB1, Molla AM, Molla AM Effects on health of fluid restriction during fasting in Ramadan.

5.Bravis V1, Hui E, Salih S, Mehar S, Hassanein M, Devendra D Ramadan Education and Awareness in Diabetes (READ) programme for Muslims with Type 2 diabetes who fast during Ramadan.

 

 Summary Table :

 

Exercise Type

Intensity

Duration

Frequency

Timing

Beginners, Some exercise experience, Generally active

Maintain normal activity levels

Walk

Yoga

Pilates

Tai Chi

Taraweeh prayers are light exercise!

Low

30 minutes is ideal but do whatever you can

Daily or as often as you can

30 minutes before sunset

Or

After Iftaar

(walk to the mosque for prayers)

Fitness Enthusiasts

Regular and Advanced exercisers

Modify your normal routine

or

Try something new :

Bodyweight circuits

Yoga

Tai chi

Core stability

Walking

Reduce your normal intensity

Lift lighter weights,

Reduce reps

Reduce aerobic intensity

High intensity cardio only in very short bursts (if you are already used to doing HIT)

Reduced duration

Adjust to suit how you feel

30 minutes is usually  enough

Less than 10minutes for HIT

Do not put stress on your body by exercising too much.

Adjust to suit and be flexible

Weights: after Iftaar

Cardio:After a light  iftaar or 1-2hrs after heavier meal

or

Pre-Suhoor (esp short HIT)

Walking &yoga (low intensity) 30min before sunset

 

12 Responses so far.

  1. Wow. This is really good – covers all the bases and then some.

  2. […] A detailed post on physical activity in Ramadan can be found here […]

  3. Shahida Miah says:

    Thank you for this valuable information it’s greatly appreciate .

    • afsha malik says:

      Thank you Shahida for your appreciation! Hope you have a safe and healthy Ramadan and beyond.
      Afsha

  4. Ahmad Ali says:

    This is very nice

  5. Soffia Ashraf says:

    Excellent tips.
    Thank you so much.

  6. zainab riaz says:

    can i do yoga 2 hours after iftar?

    • afsha malik says:

      Salaam and Ramadan Mubarak to you, Zainab.
      Yoga is best done on an empty stomach and that usually is about 2 hours after eating a full meal.So yes you could do yoga 2hours after iftar. Remember though we are all different: if you have over-eaten or eaten foods that bloat or cause indigestion, you may still find it uncomfortable to do poses that involve inversion, bending and twisting motions.
      Be mindful that yoga whilst very hungry can also spoil your practice and may cause you to be distracted and feel less energised.If you feel weak and shaky,it may be you need a small snack, like some fruit or nuts.
      Most importantly, KEEP HYDRATED. Due to the short window of opportunity to eat/drink for us this year, I would recommend you keep a bottle of water(or non-caffinated drink of your preference) with you and sip little and often through the practice.
      Wishing you a happy, safe and healthy Ramadan.

  7. Zahra Rahman says:

    Salaams and Ramadan Mubarak. Thank you for some fab advice! I did’nt want to give up my fitness regime and this has helped me tons! Good Luck to everyone and yourselves, may this month be showered with blessings on us all.

    • afsha malik says:

      Salaam Zahra
      Thank you for your kind words. It’sreally appreciated. Best of luck with the fitness and just remember to go easy on yourself,some days are better than others so be kind to your body and listen to what its saying and I am sure you will be able to maintain a healthy regime this month. After its all over please let me know how you got on and what was most challenging or even enjoyable!
      Ramadan Mubarak to you!