By Dr. Razan Baker
June 04, 2018
Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is a ritual Muslims look forward to and enjoy every year. It is the month where we seek our souls for the ultimate spirituality and connection with God through different methods, including exercising as a way of taking care of our health and fitness.
Because it is the month of giving, the first reason to exercise or participate in sports tournaments in Ramadan, I believe, would be for charity reasons. Thanks to Vision 2030 and the Saudi Federation for Mass Participation, an enormous amount of sports activities and open festivals take place, meaning society no longer has to see exercising while fasting as a tiring practice. In fact, the number of groups that meet to exercise during Ramadan is increasing all across the country.
According to a Mass Participation Federation presentation last week in Jeddah, there are 65 sports groups in the Central Province, 53 in the Western Province, 46 in the Eastern Province, 40 in the Southern Province, and 11 in the Northern Province. They vary from football to cycling, walking, running, and hiking. Clubs and fitness centers are also offering special rates to encourage physical activity among both genders. Educational institutions are also hoping to increase awareness by hosting huge sporting events, with Princess Nourah University in Riyadh hoping to attract up to 15,000 spectators between May 26 and 30.
The second reason to exercise while fasting is being a professional athlete. With the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta starting on Aug. 18, training camps are running for the country’s professional athletes both here and abroad. Religious scholars in Saudi Arabia have already given permission for professional athletes to end their fast so they can maintain their same level of performance.
It is a tough decision to make when you are training for the sake of your national team. But it is no longer just a few names on the list, as this year, for example, seven Muslim majority countries will be participating in the football World Cup: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Nigeria, including stars such as Mohamed Salah.
However, when you are exercising to pursue a healthy lifestyle, which is the third reason, you have the luxury of choosing whether to do your training before or after ending your fast. While some studies suggest exercise is better done first thing in the morning because you still have energy from the night before, other scientists believe that is not for everyone. There is no harm in some brisk walking, yoga or other light exercises before iftar, but to gain the best results it is better to wait until afterward so you can restore your body’s energy by drinking lots of fluids and eating healthy food.
The fourth reason, which is the cherry on top, is that exercising and fasting allow overweight people to achieve their weight-loss goals and could act as a strategy for preventing weight gain.
In a study published this year, titled “Two-day fasting evokes stress but does not affect mood, brain activity, cognitive, psychomotor, and motor performance in overweight women,” it was suggested that regular and long-term physical activity, especially resistance-type exercise training, effectively preserves muscle mass and should be promoted in overweight individuals during long-term intermittent fasting.
Therefore, let us associate Ramadan with a new healthy lifestyle consisting of taking care of our souls, without neglecting our bodies. Let it be a month of a new healthy you.
Dr. Razan Baker is a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Bowling Federation, a specialist in corporate social responsibility in sports, and a sports columnist/journalist.