( This was written when the fasts were long , 18+ hours when sleep can be severely disrupted and therefore has a huge hormonal impact on the body.As the fasts get shorter it becomes easier to exercise without negative effects on the body . Mostly because sleep is not as badly affected as it is during the longer fasts)
Ramadan is a perfect opportunity to “reset” oneself mentally, physically and spiritually. These three aspects of our 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).
- Ramadan occurs at different times of the year following a lunar calendar. At the moment it is occuring in the summer months In the UK and the fasting period lasts 16-20hrs 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:
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.
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.
Exercise 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.
We 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 or therapeutic movement 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.
Your desire and ability to exercise will depend on many factors. A young motivated 25year old with few family commitments may still boast about going to the gym or running a 10k while fasting, and the impact on the body may be tolerable. But an older person, with stresses of family and job, sleep disruption, other chronic conditions may find structured exercise in ramadan more of a stress on the body than a benefit.
So for everyone, movement is a must and exercise is an option.
This guide is not intended to replace any medical advice specific to you but to give you some helpful tips and key pointers.
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.
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 may benefit from reducing 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. As the fasts get shorter, some people prefer to do their cardio just before the iftar. Alternatively, if you are already used to High Intensity Training, you could opt to do a 10minute burst of HIT.
Probably 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.
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.
Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Aim to drink 2L of water in the non-fasting period. Keep a bottle of water beside you and sip regularly
A salt water solution is more hydrating than water on its own and may be a good idea for those who still insist on training at the same level as usual. Just a pinch of salt in a glass of water is a great way of replenishing electrolyes .
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.
Exercise 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
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
2.Roky R, Houti I, Moussamih S, Qotbi S,Aadil N .Physiological and chronobiological changes during Ramadan intermittent fasting
|Summary Table :|
Beginners, Some exercise experience, Generally active
Maintain normal activity levels
Taraweeh prayers are light exercise!
30 minutes is ideal but do whatever you can
Daily or as often as you can
30 minutes before sunset
(walk to the mosque for prayers)
Regular and Advanced exercisers
Modify your normal routine
Try something new :
Reduce your normal intensity
Lift lighter weights,
Reduce aerobic intensity
High intensity cardio only in very short bursts (if you are already used to doing HIT)
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
Pre-Suhoor (esp short HIT)
Walking &yoga (low intensity) 30min before sunset