Fasting and feasting go hand in hand during Ramadan, which can be challenging to the body. Experts at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre gave us some advice on how to ensure your fast is a healthy one.
Is it okay for kids to fast?
In Islamic teaching, children are not required to fast for Ramadan until they reach the age of puberty. However, in many families, younger children enjoy participating and are encouraged to practice their fasting. It’s important to make kids aware of what fasting involves and to then practice fasting for just a few hours at
a time. Fasting for children under the age of seven or eight isn’t advisable.
Are there any health conditions or exemptions that would prevent people from fasting during Ramadan?
Pregnant women are strongly advised not to fast, and indeed Islam releases a pregnant woman from fasting during Ramadan. People with type 1 diabetes are also at high risk and, if opting to fast, must be closely supervised and ensure that their blood sugar is regularly monitored. People with type 2 diabetes can generally fast perfectly safely, although it’s important that they discuss their fasting plans with their doctor.
This year Ramadan is during high summer, does this mean there’s an increased risk of dehydration?
Yes, dehydration due to reduced intake of fluids may become severe in hot and humid climates like the UAE’s, especially among those who perform hard physical labour. On top of this, hyperglycemia can result in the loss of body fluid through excessive urination, and contribute to depletion of electrolytes in the body. To combat this, it’s very important that fluid intake during non-fasting hours is maintained at a regular pace from iftar through to suhoor.
Is it okay to exercise while fasting?
Yes. Actually it’s a good idea to do some moderate exercise just before breaking your fast at iftar, before bedtime and right before suhoor. It will be quite warm during Ramadan, so outdoor exercise might not be the best option. Instead, try climbing the stairs – start slowly and gradually with two flights at a time, and refrain from pushing yourself too hard during the first few days. After the sun sets or just before dawn, a short but brisk walk for at least ten minutes is a good practice to adopt during Ramadan. If you decide to go to the mall, park the car a little farther from the entrance and walk the extra distance, or take a brisk walk around the mall before you embark on your seasonal shopping.
What are the health guidelines on smoking during Ramadan?
Smoking is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle and is not recommended at any time. Most experts see Ramadan as an ideal chance to give up smoking cigarettes or shisha, as during the long fasting hours any nicotine level in the blood reduces, which can help smokers stop completely. Unfortunately the tendency can be to chain smoke after breaking the fast, a habit considered even unhealthier than normal smoking practice as more smoke is inhaled over a shorter period.
Can people lose weight during Ramadan?
Ramadan isn’t thought of as being an opportunity to lose weight because the spiritual aspect is emphasised more than the health side. That being said, fasting can be good for your health and can lead to moderate weight loss if practiced correctly. When the body is starved of food, it starts to burn fat to make energy. This can lead to weight loss. However, if you fast for too long your body will start breaking down muscle protein for energy, which is unhealthy, but this is unlikely to happen during Ramadan as people break their fast daily, allowing the body’s energy to be replenished. This provides a gentle transition from using glucose as the main source of energy, to using fat, and prevents the breakdown of muscle for protein. The use of fat for energy helps weight loss, preserves the muscles and eventually reduces cholesterol levels. But don’t eat more than normal when breaking your fast as this can have adverse effects.