A quarter of all people alive today are presently observing the holy month of Ramadhan, the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. For twenty-nine or thirty days, they stay off food and drink from daybreak to dusk with meals restricted to the predawn (Sahur) and after sunset (Iftar). It is a time for intense devotion, worship and a deeper sense of community. The alterations in normal routines of nutrition and activity make it imperative to explore the relationship with health.
Good health, a requirement
First, only those in a good state of health are under obligation to fast. The sick, people living with medical conditions or whose wellbeing will adversely be affected by fasting are exempted. These include menstruating women, young children, the elderly, the mentally ill, pregnant women, travellers and breastfeeding mothers (depending on the age of the child). People living with conditions like diabetes or who need to take parenteral medications should not fast. This is both for medical and religious reasons.
Muslim scholars agree it is a sin to wilfully fast if it puts your health at risk. If you are on medication or living with a condition but feel capable, please discuss at length with your doctor and Imam before embarking on it. Healthcare providers must also discuss fasting with their patients who fall into this category as some people are known to fast in spite of advice against it without informing them. This will help prevent emergencies like hypoglycaemia or moderate to severe dehydration.
Changes in meal times during Ramadhan include the absence of lunch and a much earlier breakfast. The Sahur and Iftar in the Prophet Muhammad?s tradition were light but many cultures have added huge feasts to these. During fasting, the body uses up stores of carbohydrates and fats releasing energy through the day till the night meal. Water cannot be stored and used this way, so the kidneys conserve water and reducing urine production. Due to inevitable water loss, you may experience symptoms of mild dehydration like headaches, fatigue and some weakness. Given these physiological responses to fasting, it is advised to reflect replacements in the meals. Dates are commonly used to break the fast across the Muslim world, followed by water. These replenish low levels of body glucose and water rapidly. Iftar should include fruits, vegetables, yoghurts, soups which are foods that replace expended nutrients without overloading the digestive system.
Fibre-rich food like whole wheat, oats and bran; proteins like fish, eggs, nuts, dairy; and a generous serving of fruits and vegetables make up a healthy Sahur. They help ensure a balance of needed nutrients, reduce unwanted calorie build up and prevent dehydration. Fizzy drinks, processed foods or those high in trans fats, salt and refined sugars predispose people to diseases like hypertension and diabetes. They aren?t advisable every other day and are even less so while fasting.
The increased levels of devotion in Ramadhan usually take place in the early and late parts of its nights. This significantly reduces the number of hours of sleep hours. The lunar calendar is shorter by about eleven days compared to the Gregorian (solar) calendar makes Ramadhan occur earlier each year. This causes huge differences in fasting duration in temperate regions where daylight - and thus fasting - can last between eight hours in winters and up to eighteen hours in summers. These durations also vary according to the city. However, the yearly fluctuations are less prominent in Nigeria and many countries closer to the equator. Here, fasting lasts for an average of 13-14 hours from around five in the morning till seven in the evening with a difference of thirty minutes according to the time of the year.
The reduction in nighttime sleep necessitates careful planning of activities and mealtimes to ensure you have the necessary quality sleep during this period. Short day naps can help bridge the deficit. These will also help you cope as the month progresses and the night activities intensify towards the last ten days.
Do you sleep all day and eat all night? While fasting does help reduce toxins in the blood and could help with healthy weight loss, more and more people host lavish dinners ending up with more calories than necessary. Sharing your food with the needy will not only reduce the likelihood of your overeating but also will improve your mental wellbeing. Exercise should be maintained through this month but with adjustments as choosing the right time is crucial. It is possible to gain unhealthy weight in Ramadhan if you remain sedentary. It is best to avoid the heat of the midday. Appropriate exercise should be done in the early mornings or in the evening as your energy stores and fluid levels are high at these times.
We hope you stay in optimum health and enjoy all the benefits of the month.