Defining moment for women’s exercise

Updated 21 May 2012

Defining moment for women’s exercise

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.

Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

Updated 21 April 2018

Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

JEDDAH: There is a growing need for dietary supplements in Saudi Arabia, given the increasing popularity of junk food and the effective role supplements can play in treating diseases caused by mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

A recent study found that 22 percent of Saudi people take nutritional supplements. It is no surprise, then, that many Saudi businesses have forged partnerships with international dietary-supplement companies.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss, a Saudi dietitian with a Ph.D. in nutrition, said dietary supplements can be defined as substances that provide the human body with a nutrient missing from a person’s regular diet. However, she stressed that they are not intended to replace healthy eating.

She also warned against taking them without first talking to a doctor or dietitian, as some products can have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. 

“They can also cause problems if someone has a history of certain health issues,” she added.

A blood test can determine which nutrients we are not getting enough of in our diet, and therefore which supplements might be beneficial. Nutritional supplements are also used to help treat certain health conditions. 

“Vitamin C, for example, is often used to reduce cold symptoms,” said Idriss. “Fish oil is taken to lower elevated blood triglycerides.”

She suggested four daily essentials that can bridge nutritional gaps in our diet: a multivitamin, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. 

“I routinely recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to my clients after consulting with their doctors,” she said. 

“For menstruating women, who require 18 milligrams of iron each day, a daily supplement helps boost iron intake.”

She said people over the age of 50 are advised to take a multivitamin to ensure they are getting enough B12, which plays a key role in the functioning of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells. 

“Older adults are more vulnerable to B12 deficiency because they are more likely to have decreased production of stomach acid, which is needed to release B12 from the proteins in food.” said Idriss. 

“It is also a good idea to take a daily multivitamin if one is following a low-calorie diet.”

She also pointed out that a high intake of DHA and EPA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A deficiency of DHA might also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. 

“A daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of both DHA and EPA is equivalent to eating 12 ounces of salmon a week,” said Idriss.

The dietitian believes that the Saudis who take food supplements often do so more to benefit their appearance than their health. 

“Saudi women consume more dietary supplements than other people in Saudi Arabia,” she said. 

“They do so either to lose weight or to care for their hair and nails. Bodybuilders also take large amounts of supplements.”

However, both groups, according to Idriss, tend to take supplements on the recommendation of friends and trainers, not doctors. 

She warned that commercials and social-media rumors can persuade people to buy supplements online that may not be approved as safe by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and advised people to get as much of their daily nutrient needs as possible from healthy eating.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss

“Along with vitamins and minerals, a healthy diet provides fiber and hundreds of protective phytochemicals, something a supplement cannot do,” she said, adding that the body absorbs natural food more effectively than supplements.

In addition, combining supplements with medications can have dangerous, even life-threatening, effects. 

“Drugs for heart disease and depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth-control pills are less effective when taken with herbal supplements,” she said.

“Taking an anticoagulant, aspirin, and a vitamin E supplement together may increase the potential for internal bleeding or even stroke.”


Natural sources

With the spread of fast-food restaurants and their alluring ads, the long-term health of the Saudi people is in danger, as children and young people snub natural sources of nutrients, such as fruit and vegetables. 

“This can lead to many deficiency diseases. Moreover, vegetarians can develop similar illnesses due to the absence of meat in their diet,” she said.
Dr. Ashraf Ameer, a family-medicine consultant, said the importance of nutritional supplements lies in treating mineral and vitamin deficiency, especially for pregnant women, growing children, diabetics, people with chronic diseases, and the elderly. 

“However, these products should come from reliable companies and meet Saudi food and drug requirements,”he added.

Mohammed Yaseen, who has a food supplements business, said his company works with a leading British health-care company to provide the Saudi market with high quality products.

“With this we hope we can contribute to the national transformation program by raising private-sector spending in health care from 25 percent to 35 percent, which in turn would lead to the sector’s financial sustainability and boost economic and social development in the Kingdom,” Yaseen said.


Vitamin Terms

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid.  Phytochemical is a biologically active compound found in plants.