DR MOHAMMED NASIR JAFFER gives some advice on exercise during Ramadaan.
‘O BELIEVERS! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was for those before you so perhaps you will become mindful of Allah.’ (Quran 2:183)
The primary goal of Ramadaan is to develop an inward awareness of the Creator, Allah SWT. It can be argued that one should, therefore, not be preoccupied with unnecessary activities which may cause distraction from this goal. Exercise in Ramadaan is seen by some as wasting valuable time which could be put to better use. As Muslims, we need to be reminded that physical activity is an intrinsic part of our deen. Three of the five pillars of Islam involve physical effort. These are the compulsory activities of salaah, fasting and the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The daily salaah (prayer) is a form of exercise as its prescribed movements involve all muscles and joints of the body. This benefit is multiplied when performing Taraweeh Salaah in Ramadaan.
While the medical and spiritual benefits of fasting are well known and frequently discussed, we seldom reflect on our state of physical preparedness prior to entering this holy month. The physically demanding activities of fasting during the day and Taraweeh prayers in the evening during the month of Ramadaan are tiring and exhausting to most observants, and it is no wonder that many Muslims become extremely lethargic as the days progress. It is, therefore, not unusual to find that attendance at masjids for the evening Taraweeh salaah drops precipitously as the month passes, as people simply run out of energy and enthusiasm.
Advice for exercising in Ramadaan
These guidelines do not apply to elite and/or professional sports persons. They have unique, individual needs and usually a programme will be specifically designed for them during the month of Ramadaan.
Do not start an exercise programme in Ramadaan. Those already on an exercise regime will benefit from a maintenance programme during Ramadaan. If one stops exercising all together, it is inevitable that there will be a loss of fitness over a period of time, especially if the exercise programme was initiated recently.
The outlook is better for those who are fitter and have exercised for a longer period before the cessation of the programme. In these individuals, there is less fitness lost and the prior level of fitness will be rapidly regained on recommencement of the programme. Thus, it makes sense to achieve the maximum level of fitness possible just before the commencement of Ramadaan.
It is not advisable to increase the amount and intensity of the exercise during Ramadaan. As the body is in a fasting state, the adaptations required to increase fitness levels are not going to be optimal. Also, participation in mass, organised sports events is also discouraged.
Do not prioritise exercise time over important acts of compulsory or voluntary acts of worship e.g. fard salaah, Taraweeh salaah, reciting the Quran, giving charity, involvement in community activities, dhikr, etc. It is a reality, that many people increase these acts of devotion in the holy month and neglect them during the rest of the year.
Recite adhkaar while exercising. This should not be restricted to the month of Ramadaan only. Try not to skip Taraweeh prayers (all 20) as this is not only spiritually rewarding but also offers medical benefits.
Eating and drinking guidelines
Do not skip suhoor. Rehydrate after fasting by drinking small amounts of fluids, but frequently. Drinking too much fluid at one time will quickly be excreted by the kidneys. Avoid drinks containing caffeine e.g. tea, coffee and colas. These will accelerate elimination of fluid from the body.
Eat foods that release nutrients slowly (Low GI foods). This will provide energy for longer. Breakfast with cereals, like rolled oats, bran flakes; most green vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, baby marrow, and some starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes, sweetcorn, squash and carrots; legumes (peas, lentils, chickpeas, baked beans, butter beans, sugar beans, dhals); pasta and noodles (brown pasta, soya noodles, vermicelli noodles, rice noodles); rice (basmati, long grain, brown); bread and rotis (brown, wholewheat); other (mealie meal pap, quinoa, barley, couscous, semolina).
The best time to exercise
Do not exercise during midday. The best time to exercise, is between iftaar and suhoor. Here there will be no restrictions on eating or drinking needs. Have a light meal at iftaar then the exercise programme, followed by the main meal.
The salaah times for Maghrib, Eshaa and Taraweeh prayers have to be taken into account, as the exercise regime will have to be scheduled around these times.
Another recommended time is just before suhoor, as the exercise programme will end with a meal just before the fast. However, this may not be suitable for most people. Other times that have been advised (with caution) are just after Fajr and just before iftaar. This should only be undertaken after having taken medical advice.
When a Muslim engages in physical activity, participation in such activities is not to derive worldly pleasures but to gain the pleasure of Allah, and to physically become stronger and fitter to worship the Creator, Allah SWT, more effectively.
Dr Mohammed Nasir Jaffer (sports medicine) practises in Cape Town.