Defining moment for women’s exercise

Almamoun Alshingiti

Published — Monday 21 May 2012

Last update 21 May 2012 6:28 am

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I always ask myself why we don't allow our women to freely exercise in a controlled, Islamic way. I am not able to find an answer. I believe we, as a society, don't really understand what exercise means. We equate it with football, and football being a sport dominated by men, we automatically assume exercise is for our male population. What about our daughters, sisters, mothers and wives?
Let's define what exercise is for women and girls. We are not talking about competitive sports, like football and others. We are talking about walking, group classes and basic fitness exercises that lower body fat and increase muscular strength and bone mass. We are talking about basic movement that our girls are not engaging in. We see ever younger victims of obesity, diabetes and other preventable diseases. Our affluent way of life has led us to more screen time and more fast food. We do not have facilities for our girls where they can burn the energy and become healthy. We need them to move at the early ages in a systematic way.
Our daughters are plagued with the following diseases that can be altered through wellness and physical fitness: Obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, colon and breast cancer, and (postpartum) depression. Exercise releases endorphins that stimulate a state of relaxation that even makes you sleep better by releasing extra melatonin.
Saudi women tend not to see the sun, thus they are prone to vitamin D deficiency, even if they consume enough calcium. Exercise will deposit cells that make bones thicker and stronger. The exercising muscles will pull on the bone and also make them larger, thus stronger. This will offset osteoporosis in the long run, since less bone mass will be lost. The young girl exercising now will prevent bone loss when she is much older.
Saudi women tend to stress their bodies by having on average three to four kids. This normally makes them prone to weight increase. If they are used to exercising since childhood — because it is ingrained in their culture — they will be more likely to lose the weight by exercising. The incremental weight consists mostly of fat, making women prone to diabetes, hypertension and other diseases. So, our young women need to start exercising at the young age of four or five and continue through adulthood.
Exercise in youth (eight to 16 years) will protect the body from diseases by making the heart and circulatory system stronger and healthier. Women who exercise are less likely to have painful menstruation. They will even produce healthier, stronger babies. When paired with a healthy diet, exercise can stimulate fertility and help conceive faster by controlling insulin resistance level.
Our women don't have approved facilities where they can exercise with other women to become healthy. Any sport facility needs to be associated with a hospital as part of the physical therapy program. All other existing women sport clubs are not official. We are still hiding behind innuendos and excuses while the health of our daughters is deteriorating day by day. If the excuse is what kind of dress they wear, why not design an approved female Islamic sports uniform? If the excuse is that exercise causes girls to become masculine, this is another absurdity with no scientific evidence. Women have very low levels of testosterone, thus they will never have muscle mass like men. Exercise will not alter that.
It is an Islamic imperative to allow girls to exercise; Aisha, the wife of our beloved prophet Muhammad (pbuh), ran with him on several occasions. That is a religious proof of the need to move and exercise.
Our daughters have free time on their hand that can be used wisely to develop their bodies and increase their self-esteem and psychological wellbeing instead of spending time around malls and sitting in coffee shops and restaurants. “Mens sana in corpore sano:” a healthy mind resides in a healthy body.
The question is why not allow our daughters to exercise in a model we design in accordance with Shariah and conforming to our culture? Is it that difficult to accomplish so that we can help our women?
Almamoun Alshingiti is the director of strategic development of school sports.

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