Fasting for good health

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Updated 30 June 2016
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Fasting for good health

Fasting is an essential pillar of Islam; it’s been an essential part of seeking and finding spiritual purposes in the centuries before our last Prophet (peace be upon Him) defined its importance in Islam. For many, fasting is a source of discipline to sharpen the individual’s spiritual senses and tap into the divine source, an act so simple yet holds immense benefits for those who practice it. For years, scientists and nutritionists have conducted studies to understand better the human body and its chemical reactions while fasting. Fasting diets have been criticized for being unhealthy all the same, but the studies weren’t complete or even clear enough to figure it out. In recent years, physicians and dietitians have finally understood the benefits of fasting either intermittently or on a regular basis, recommending them for their patients and healthy people alike.
There are many fad diets out there that recommend fasting as a means to lose weight, but what they won’t tell you is that you gain the weight back if it isn’t done correctly. Fasting does in fact help in weight loss and controlling the weight, but you need to understand the way the human body works while abstaining from food and drinks for a specific period of time. Research has proven that fasting helps in the regeneration of the immune system, as well as powerful benefits for the body and brain. When our bodies are overworked and overwhelmed by stresses of day to day activities and food, it slows down the fat burning process, increases stress levels and disrupts sleep patterns, not to mention the irritability of the digestive system as it tries to process the excess of food while the stomach, colon and intestines go through major changes many of which have negative and disturbing outcomes.
While fasting, a number of chemical reactions take place, one very important change would be the drop of insulin levels which promote fat burning. Prolonged fasting forces the body to tap into the storage of glucose and fat, with help from the reduced insulin levels, the effect results in gradual and healthy weight loss. While the body does require a large amount of energy to move about through the day, to many contrary beliefs, fasting doesn’t tap into that energy and depletes it. The opposite is true, with the proper diet, digesting, assimilating and metabolizing, it’s estimated that more than 50 percent of the food intake is transformed to stored energy, and fasting balances food intake and energy use.
Research has also found that fasting reduces an enzyme called PKA, a protein dependent enzyme that has several functions in cells, regulation of glycogen, sugar and lipid metabolism. PKA is also linked to an aging hormone that increases cancer risk and tumor growth. Intermittent fasting cycles have been found to trigger changes in stem cell based regeneration of new immune system cells. A study conducted at the University of Southern California found that PKA is the key gene that needs to “shut down” in order for these stem cells to switch into regenerative mode, to gradually rebuild and rejuvenate the immune system. This finding is helpful to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, by which their immune system is surely depleted and in low dangerous levels. Physicians are now recommending prolonged fasting to their patients not only to help prolonging their lives, but also to help reduce infections and illnesses associated with age and low immune systems that can be very dangerous.
So now you ask, what about me? I’m healthy and young, do I need to fast too? The answer would be, yes, you could. Not only does fasting help the body on a cellular level, a physiological level, it helps on a mental level too by promoting inner stillness and enhancing spiritual connection. The utility of fasting in a spiritual or religious quest has been an integral part of human history. All major religions retain fasting as a fundamental part of their spiritual practice to gain enlightenment, clarity, self discipline and more importantly inner nourishment. During a state of fasting, the mind goes into a meditative and relaxing mode, enhancing the brain’s ability to regulate stress levels and help make better strategic decisions. On a psychological level, fasting resembles the renewal of oneself, a state of peace takes place and with repetition, the behavior changes into a more relaxed and less stressed individual. It’s through abstaining does one regain control of the nerves and can assimilate to the environment around him if and when it’s filled with negative energy.
Be sure to consult a physician if you’re suffering from certain health related complications before considering starting a fasting cycle.

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Ramadan offers ‘golden opportunity’ to get in shape, say Saudi fitness experts

The holy month of Ramadan is the perfect time to get into shape. Photos show clockwise from top: Sohaib Mubarak, Rayan Bashawri, Mashael Fagerah and Reham Kamal. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Ramadan offers ‘golden opportunity’ to get in shape, say Saudi fitness experts

  • Many Muslims take advantage of the holy month of fasting to keep fit
  • For fat burning, it is better to work out an hour before breaking fast, since the insulin level is low, but for building lean, toned muscles, it is better to work out two hours after breaking fast because the insulin level is high

JEDDAH: Saudi fitness experts have urged Muslims to use Ramadan as a “golden opportunity” to start a new healthy lifestyle.
The holy month of fasting is the perfect time to get into shape, say some of the Kingdom’s top trainers.
With regular exercise, Ramadan can offer a new start for many worshippers both spiritually and physically. RK Fit gym owner, Reham Kamal, told Arab News that working out while fasting was healthy because the body used stored fat as energy, resulting in more fat burning.
The 32-year-old Saudi coach recommended low- to medium-impact workouts while fasting to avoid dehydration and advised trying calisthenics, a form of exercise consisting of a variety of movements which work large muscle groups, such as running, standing, grasping and pushing.
Kamal said: “Ramadan is a great opportunity to lose weight. We shouldn’t eat too much when breaking our fast. Sadly, in our culture, people take this month as an opportunity to fill the table.
“They aren’t seeing the golden opportunity to get into shape, because fasting has numerous health benefits, not only weight loss. It promotes blood-sugar control by reducing insulin resistance, increases growth hormone secretion, which is vital for growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength, and aids weight loss by limiting calorie intake and boosting metabolism.
“For fat burning, it is better to work out an hour before breaking your fast, since the insulin level is low, but for building lean, toned muscles, it is better to work out two hours after breaking fast because the insulin level is high,” she added.

HIGHLIGHTS

The holy month of Ramadan is a new start for many, both spiritually and physically.

Exercising while fasting has benefits: It promotes blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance, increases growth hormone secretion which is vital for growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength, and aids weight loss by limiting calorie intake and boosting metabolism.

Mashael Fagerah, 35, owner of House of Agility, a studio offering high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and circuit training, said: “You can do everything you normally do during fasting especially if you are used to working out. But if you are a beginner, I would recommend starting carefully with low-impact training.”
She told Arab News that many Muslims took advantage of Ramadan to keep fit.
“Whether before iftar, before sahoor or between them, if you have the time for a workout just do it,” added Fagerah. “At the end of the day, it is better than doing nothing.”
Saudi personal trainer and co-founder of Swish bootcamp, Sohaib Mubarak, 29, said it was important to choose the right kind of fitness regime. “When you haven’t had anything to drink or eat your body is low in fuel and dehydrated. Therefore, performing high-intensity training would harm your body and your health.
“Also, studies show that the difference in results is insignificant between exercising in a fasted or a fed state,” he added. 
Mubarak recommended low-intensity cardio for a short period of time. “That is 60 percent to 70 percent of maximum heart rate. By doing that you won’t sweat much and get dehydrated.”
He said people often wrongly related not eating to weight loss, when infact they should focus more on maintaining a healthy lifestyle rather than watching the weighing scales.
“In my opinion Ramadan is like any other month, because losing weight and having a good shape is about changing your eating habits and lifestyle for life not only for one month. One month is not enough to create a tremendous transformation. It’s all about consistency,” Mubarak told Arab News.
Saudi fitness trainer and owner of B. Bros gym, Rayan Bashawri, 27, stressed the importance of listening to the body’s needs and capabilities.
“So many studies have been done about fasted training or training on an empty stomach, and it shows different thoughts depending on what kind of athlete you are or what kind of sport you are doing.
“But my opinion is to listen to your body and do what feels right for you. It’s not healthier to do fasted training but it’s not bad for you either. You can reach your goal either way,” he told Arab News.
The number of people taking out gym subscriptions often shoots up during Ramadan.
Bashawri said: “Right after Ramadan is the time when people travel, and it’s a beach season as well, so obviously everyone wants to look good. The ages of those hitting the gym at this time of the year are from 18-30.”
Fasting was a great opportunity to lose weight, but Bashawri noted that staying up late and sleeping during the day was not ideal. He also warned people not to over-exert themselves if exercising during fasting as it could cause injury and dehydration.