Article contribution by Homage Malaysia
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The holy month of Ramadan
Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, where Muslims are required to fast for the whole month as an obligation to fulfil one of the five pillars of Islam. The duration of fasting begins at dawn after Sahur (pre-dawn meal) until sunset when they have Iftar (breakfasting meal). Eating, drinking, smoking, gum chewing, and sexual activities are abstained in the daytime. On the other hand, nighttime is spent strengthening one’s relationship with God through acts of worship.
While fasting is known for its many health benefits, ensuring the proper and safe ways of practising it should be given extra attention to avoid putting our health at risk. Here are some tips for healthy Ramadan fasting to consider for the enrichment of our body, mind, and soul.
Tips for Healthy and Safe Ramadan Fasting
● Keep yourself hydrated.
Fasting tends to trigger your thirst much quicker than your hunger cravings—after all, water takes up the biggest portion of our body at 60%. That explains why we are still capable of getting through three weeks with no food, but can barely survive without liquids after only three days.
In order to ensure you drink sufficient amounts of water throughout the night, eight glasses of water can be distributed using the 2-4-2 method; 2 during Iftar, 4 from after Iftar until bedtime, and 2 during Sahur. As we tend to overdrink to compensate for thirst, this method is a useful way of regulating your daily water intake to avoid drinking too little or too much.
Hydration also comes in water-rich content foods like fruits and vegetables, so do not forget to add these to your plate as well.
● Do not ever, ever skip Sahur.
This final time of eating or drinking before the sun rises serves as your breakfast during Ramadan; considering that breakfast is essential to kick-start your day, missing out on your pre-dawn meals is just asking for trouble.
Not only does Sahur nourish your body and brain with the necessary nutrients to beat lethargy during the day (or most of it), the right food choices help to keep your well-being sustained so that you can function at your best even when fasting.
One good habit to practice is to delay Sahur time to 30 or 40 minutes before sunrise. This works to maximise the feeling of fullness in your stomach for a longer period of time and reduce the possibility of early hunger as well as thirst. Avoid opting for Sahur late at night before bedtime just so that you do not have to wake up early. Set an alarm or ask your family members and friends to keep you in check.
● Get enough sleep at consistent hours.
How to ensure you wake up for Sahur? By observing your sleep. Sleep is the most affected aspect during Ramadan as Sahur requires us to get up much earlier than usual. Such sudden change can alter your sleeping pattern which causes sleep deprivation and headaches during the day, especially for late sleepers.
Thus, establishing a sleep schedule is important to avoid your body clock from being in shock due to waking up and sleeping at inconsistent hours. Improving your sleeping habits is also crucial to getting a good quality of sleep; saying no to large meals and reducing screen time at least 2 hours prior to slumber time, can make a positive difference.
You may also take a short nap during noon or lunch break in case you are in need of a little bit of rest—but try not to give in to long daytime naps as this will cause you to be wakeful at night, making sleeping early a difficult task.
● Eat moderately during Iftar.
When breaking fast, the temptation to overeat is common due to not eating and drinking throughout the day. However, this puts pressure and stress on your digestive system to work harder—which consequently leads to indigestion, heartburn, and stomach cramps.
Fasting does not necessarily mean you need to double up your portions of food to make up for missing daytime meals. In fact, maintain your usual portions instead of having a grand feast for Iftar. Eating excessively can also cause a spike in your blood sugar levels, hence be mindful of how much you eat and do not push your stomach to take in more food when you already feel full enough.
We are also advised to take our time and not to eat in a rush manner. A great way to do this is by spreading out our Iftar to two parts; a light Iftar with dates as well as a glass of water at sunset, and a full iftar after the post-sunset prayer (Maghrib). As dates are high in carbohydrates and sugar, they can satisfy much of our hunger and prevent us from overeating during the full iftar.
● Maintain a balanced diet.
A balanced diet, particularly during Ramadan, is vital to ensure our body absorbs as many nutrients as possible in order to keep us energised despite fasting for about 13 hours. Ramadan teaches us that a balanced diet is not all about quantity, rather it is the quality of food choices that can bring out the most health benefits.
Your meal should include these nutritional contents; complex carbohydrates to supply us with energy, protein to boost the immune system, fibre to slow down your digestion so that you feel full for a longer period, as well as fruits and vegetables that should take up half of your plate in order to retain hydration.
Reduce sugar, sodium, and greasy food intake as these can make you feel thirstier when fasting, as well as increase health risks such as high calories and high blood pressure. Keep away from high-sugar liquids such as carbonated drinks and carton juices to reduce dehydration. Caffeinated beverages should be limited to one cup only, preferably consumed at least two hours after Iftar or during Sahur.
● Be active.
Exercising during Ramadan may sound absurd when we already feel tired as it is due to fasting. Even so, sleeping and lying down all day is not the way to go. Staying healthy goes beyond a balanced diet; while a healthy plate assists with the inner functioning of your body systems, working out helps to strengthen your physical aspect.
Granted that we have taken adequate and healthy nutrients, exercises can actually provide energy rather than taking it away. The endorphin hormones released when exercising work to elevate our mood and increase energy levels.
Nevertheless, we are reminded to be smart on how to execute our fitness routine. Practise light and slow exercises as easy as brisk walking and yoga stretch. Working out in the evening before Iftar is the ideal time, as you can rehydrate soon right after. If the weather is too hot, you can always opt for indoor exercise.
● Put down the cigarette.
Ramadan also prohibits smoking in the daytime as the hazardous particles from cigarettes can enter the body when inhaled, thus making your fast invalid. Unfortunately, smokers often resort to chain-smoking—which refers to smoking a number of cigarettes continuously—after Iftar to compensate for their lack of nicotine consumption during the day.
As generally known, the toxic substances in cigarettes bring harmful effects on our respiratory and nervous systems. In addition, chain smoking makes the unhealthy habit even more difficult to be curbed because no attempt is made to reduce the amount of puffing. Consequently, you lose the opportunity to minimise your smoking behaviours during the holy month, which defeats the purpose of observing Ramadan.
Managing addiction is a consistent commitment. Try cutting down your smoking habits gradually prior to Ramadan to avoid withdrawal symptoms when fasting, and continue to do so after the fasting month ends. Nicotine patches and nicotine gums can also be helpful alternatives.
● Consult with healthcare providers.
For the elderly and patients with medical conditions, seek advice from healthcare providers on whether your health allows you to fast. If you or your loved ones are well enough to carry on fasting, discuss with your doctor the adjustments in your medication schedule during Ramadan and the ways you can administer fasting safely.
It is important to note that these individuals are not made compulsory to fast for the sake of protecting their well-being.
● Make the Qur’an your social media.
Never a day we do not log in to our Instagram and Twitter first thing in the morning, before bedtime, or whenever there is a free break. Why not replace your gadgets with a much better tool for a change—the Holy Qur’an?
One of the main goals you should achieve during Ramadan is to achieve khatam Al-Qur’an or complete the recitation of the Qur’an from cover to cover. During each of the five prayer times, you can plan to recite either several verses, chapters, or pages depending on your own capability. Such practice motivates us to be consistent with reading the holy book daily. Invite your family or friends as well to join and do it in groups.
If Arabic is not your first language, there are plenty of context-based translations available to assist with your understanding of the Qur’an. However, keep in mind that quality is better than quantity. As long as you manage to spend time reading it every day and gain some lessons from the meanings, you are one step forward to self-betterment.
● Perform Sunnah prayers at night.
Sunnah prayers are additions to the five compulsory daily prayers for Muslims. Although optional, it is highly encouraged to perform as many as you can during the holy month. As nightly hours tend to be quieter due to fewer distractions, you can utilise these moments of solitude and calmness to have one-on-one sessions with your Creator.
Whenever you can, join the congregational Sunnah prayer of Taraweeh with family and friends at the mosque to get the most out of Ramadan blessings. Praying in mass offers better rewards, but you can always pray at home as well; what matters is you perform it with much khusyu’ (wholeheartedly with immense concentration).
If you have some time left after Sahur, try spending it on at least one Sunnah prayer while waiting for the call of the obligatory dawn prayer.
● Bury your nose in Islamic books and lectures.
The month of Ramadan is also the time to amp up your efforts in attaining knowledge—read stories of the Prophets and their beloved Companions, listen to podcasts on spirituality and wellness, and watch lecture videos that discuss various aspects of the Islamic way of life.
Expanding your mind to something new and positive benefits the cognitive functions of the brain, as well as the growth of your soul. By educating yourself with good sources of knowledge, you will gain a better grasp of the religion as a whole and therefore, can pass on what you have learned among your social circles.
● Practice the giving hands.
In Islam, charity is a means to purify our hearts from any soul-destructive feelings such as jealousy, ungratefulness, and hatred. Be it in the form of monetary or good deeds, this thoughtful gesture aims to train us to treat others the way we want to be treated through acts of compassion, kindness, and empathy.
Apart from that, taking part in volunteerism is a practical option to manifest charity. Sign up for soup kitchens or contribute items to food and clothing banks to provide for the less fortunate. You may also share your blessings of wealth by giving donations at the mosque and the orphanages.
● Meditate through Zikr.
Zikr refers to the act of worship by uttering short phrases of praise repeatedly for the purpose of remembering Allah’s greatness. This Islamic form of meditation is able to grant a sense of inner peace and inspire us to surrender our worries to His control. As Zikr does not require any specific timings like the five prayers, you can practise it at your convenience.
● Keep a journal.
Journaling has been widely appreciated as a healthy habit of getting your thoughts out into a safe place. How we take care of our minds affects the way our body thrives. Negativity often clouds our outlook on life and if continuously being repressed, the repercussions can jeopardise our physical health as well.
By writing them down, it allows you to look back through the pages and track the progress of your thoughts. Keeping tabs on your own growth helps to boost self-esteem and instil a feeling of gratitude.
● Go offline.
In this era of new media, the internet surely has its good reputation; however, as much as the news updates and social hubs keep us better-informed, oftentimes the overflowing digital information pulls you in long enough to act as distractions. Wasting hours on the screen takes away the valuable time you could have spent on doing something more fruitful.
Rather than scrolling through social media which can spark unhealthy thoughts like self-comparison, unplug from the virtual space and engage in real-world activities instead. Make yourself useful around the house with meal-prepping or be involved in the Ramadan community efforts around your neighbourhood.
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