The Islamic Post Blog

Medical and Health Benefits of Fasting, Even After Ramadan by Khalida
September 26, 2008, 3:21 pm
Filed under: Hakimah's Corner, Magazine/ Culture, Sept/Oct Volume - 2008 | Tags: , ,

Hakimah’s Corner

Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended as medical advice; consult your health practitioner.

By Hakimah Umm Tabari, Islamic Post Staff Writer

As Ramadan draws to a close and we approach the optional and highly rewarded post-Eid fasts during the Islamic month of Shawwal, it is encouraging to examine the ways that fasting benefits one from a physical perspective.  Fasting helps the body restore homeostasis.  Homeostasis is the near perfect balance that is found in a healthy body. It is the normal interaction between all of the systems and organs. Disruption of this state leads to the development of illness and disease.  When one fasts during the prescribed time period, the body is able to perform it’s various functions unhampered by the demands placed on it by the constant eating and drinking of snack food, devitalized fast food, sodas, and other things that do not support the heath of the human body.  As this homeostasis is restored, the delicate interplay between systems is kicked up a notch and fine-tuning of body functions begins.  This restorative process allows for the strengthening of the immune system– the all-important system in the body that protects one from becoming a victim to the manifold pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc.) that are ever-present in the environment.
Fasting provides rest for the digestive and metabolic systems.  The Islamic fasting requires that one meal taken in the pre-dawn hours and another after sunset.  Since a lunar calendar is used, this time period changes from year to year  so one may fast anywhere from 13 hours to 18 hours, depending on the season.  Since absolutely no food or drink is taken during this time the body has the opportunity to work on breaking down and eliminating excess food, stored fat, and extra cellular debris, in essence “cleaning house.”  It is important to note that in order to gain these benefits one must protect the body against the extravagance of huge sehri (pre-dawn) meals and iftari meals that are heavily laden with fats and sugars and are difficult to digest.  It is necessary to maintain a balanced diet during this time to aid the body in its work.  Equally important is to get as much water between iftar and sleeping and with suhur, to ward off dehydration, especially if the fasting day is long or very hot.
Fasting can be a weight management tool.  While the main focus of Ramadan is to receive the most spiritual benefit possible from the fasting, prudent preparation of the meals taken can allow one to moderate their eating habits and lose weight by choosing foods that are nutrition rich and avoiding high caloric, high sugar foods that one is used to snacking on throughout the day normally.  Foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good protein sources such as chicken, fish, beans and legumes, eggs and some dairy products like yogurt and cheese are the best sources to choose from when planning meals.  Good eating habits acquired during Ramadan should be maintained after the month ends.
Remember that thirty days is an excellent length of time to establish a new habit and break an old one.  Studies have shown that a lower caloric intake is associated with longer life spans and many of the people studied who lived well into their 90’s and 100’s were people who were conservative in their eating habits and fasted regularly.
Fasting provides mental and emotional stability.  During Ramadan one is reminded to show restraint in all things and this causes a positive effect on one’s mental health.  Fasting causes one to become more introspective and more attentive to the spiritual aspects of life. Avoiding unhealthy practices such as smoking, drinking and overeating helps one feel healthier and happier, creating a more stable mental outlook. Poor eating habits can lead to health problems i.e., low blood sugar, headaches, insomnia, etc., that in turn lead to behavior and or attitude problems.  Many fasting people report that they have more energy (especially after the first week) and feel more content and tranquil.  They report being able to cope better with stresses in their lives.  This feeling of tranquility leads to health benefits such as lowered blood pressure, better sleeping habits, reduction in anxiety and depression and better control of behavior.  Of course much of this is due to the increased ibadah (worship) that is performed, for that in itself is a healing.


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