Ramadan is a much-anticipated holy month for Muslims as it is a time to connect with God, family and loved ones. Muslims are encouraged to focus on personal and spiritual development while fasting, as well as develop empathy for those struggling with poverty around the world. Ramadan also provides unique health benefits and challenges as people get used to adjusting to an entirely different food and sleep cycle.
Due to lack of reliable knowledge regarding healthy eating and fitness, many Muslims surprisingly gain weight in Ramadan! Feeling low energy levels throughout the day is a common experience and is often thought to be normal given the fasted state. But rather than low energy being the result of the fasted state, it is usually largely due to unhealthy food choices, lack of activity and over-eating during non-daylight hours. Here are three simple, ways to stay healthy and boost energy while fasting.
1. Increase your NEAT movement
Many Muslims begin to experience tiredness, irritability and lack of motivation halfway through Ramadan. A major contributing factor is a sudden decrease in movement. It seems counterintuitive, but increased movement can actually energise your fast!
Many Muslims try to move as little as possible in Ramadan. However, increased movement boosts endorphins and feel-good hormones in your body. “NEAT movement” refers to “non-exercise activity thermogenesis”, or calories burned through regular daily walking, climbing stairs, standing up, and moving around. The more NEAT movement you get throughout the day, the more energised you will feel!
Try to move as much as possible while fasting to benefit from the energising effects of NEAT movement. So take your phone calls while walking whenever possible, choose the stairs instead of the elevator, and try out a standing desk while fasting. Another obvious benefit is that increased walking will improve metabolism and prevent unwanted Ramadan weight gain that many families struggle with! Many Muslims choose to reduce exercise intensity during Ramadan, to accommodate the fasting schedule. However, Ramadan is also a fantastic opportunity to improve often-overlooked aspects of fitness such as increasing your steps, improving mobility, and developing habits of incorporating more movement into your day whenever possible.
2. Get some sunlight
During Ramadan, Muslims wake up before sunrise to pray and eat a quick meal before fasting begins. Early mornings and late nights spent in prayer leave most Muslims feeling tired. This usually results in spending more time on the couch, which leads to further low energy and feelings of laziness.
In Ramadan, use your body’s natural cues for wakefulness to increase your energy. Sunlight is a powerful signal that tells your body to “wake up”. Fortunately, there’s never a shortage of sun in most parts of Australia!
When Ramadan tiredness sets in, step outside for even a few minutes and go for a walk. A quick burst of movement and daylight will instantly shake off feelings of lethargy to perk up your afternoon. Numerous studies show spending time outdoors has therapeutic including boosting your mood, making you feel happier, and increasing motivation. In Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to take time to reflect on our character. Getting outside creates the perfect environment for spiritual development, while also increasing your energy.
3. Hydration, hydration, hydration!
When breaking the fast (known as “iftar”), many Muslims are hungrily thinking about food. However, what your body actually needs most after fasting is fluids and hydration!
Rehydrate immediately at iftar by prioritising fluid-filled foods, such as fruits or soups. Watermelon, berries, dates, and oranges provide excellent hydration opportunities that are also high in fibre to improve digestion. Soups are also popular hydrating dishes at iftar, such as traditional lentil soups or chicken broths. Aim to have one to two fluid-filled food choices and a glass of water before beginning your iftar meal. Throughout the evening during non-fasting hours, keep a water bottle on hand to continue re-hydrating your body, as well as to prepare for the next day of fasting. When attending evening prayers, remember to keep sipping water to replenish your fluids as much as possible before the next fast.
Increasing your daily movement, getting some fresh air and sunlight, and paying more attention to hydration may seem like small changes in your Ramadan fasting routine. However, these simple changes can make a profound difference to your energy in Ramadan when practiced daily.