Benefits from Exercise While Fasting

Benefits from Exercise While Fasting

It’s that time of the year again where lazing on the couch, taking inadvertent naps, and slow movement are commonplace during the day. It can be hard to imagine being as active as your pre-Ramadan self during your fasts, however, research suggests that there are benefits from exercise while fasting. And this does not only include engaging in an exercise routine. There are also benefits from generally staying active. Here are some details to keep in mind about general body movement and exercise.

Researchers now use a special term for general body movement: non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) or non-exercise physical activity (NEPA). Let’s look at the types of exercises that work well in a fasting state, and how NEAT or NEPA is also good for your overall health. 

What is non-exercise physical activity and why is it important?  

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) or non-exercise physical activity (NEPA) is “the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting.” It can also include what most homemakers engage in: cooking, cleaning, and shopping. These activities can have a great impact on your metabolic rate and calorie expenditure. For people who are trying to lose weight or fat, moving your body in normal tasks throughout the day works in tandem with regular exercise. In fact, it is more beneficial to do this than vigorously exercising 2-3 hours a week and not moving around for the rest of the time.

Thermogenesis is the production of heat. Our bodies produce heat when food is converted into more energy or stored as fat in another location to be used later; it makes up about 10 percent of our daily energy use. Our bodies also produce heat when we engage in any physical activity, which includes either planned exercise or spontaneous non-exercise. These account for 15-30 percent of our daily energy use.

While we are fasting, our bodies are already burning fat. However, you can burn more fat when physical activity is included and can keep burning it while in a resting state. If we do not move all day and then eat a big meal during iftar (meal at sunset after a day-long fast), our body will mostly store this food as fat if it is not coupled with physical activity. Therefore, it is important to move around throughout the day and even after Iftar

Moreover, physical activity increases our mental alertness and productivity. When moving, our heart pumps our blood faster, which then pumps more blood to our brains, increasing alertness. The tasks we engage in also help us to be distracted by the hunger we feel during our fast. Therefore, keep yourself busy during the month of Ramadan even if you don’t feel like it. 

Here are some ways you can increase your NEAT/NEPA: 

  1. Sit less, stand more: While doing office work or any work that requires sitting to focus, choose to stand instead. Sitting for a long time has been found to be hazardous to our health, while standing can increase our caloric loss. 
  2. Take more daily steps: Set a goal of steps you will take in a day using a tracker in your phone or smartwatch, and try to complete as many as you can. Even if you don’t reach your goal, you are still making the effort to walk more than sit. The recommended amount is 10,000 steps a day.
  3. Walk or cycle to your job or errands: Instead of driving or sitting in the bus to get anywhere, try to walk or cycle to your destination. Even if you commute by train or bus, you can get off a few stops earlier and walk to your destination. Also, most errands are close to home, therefore walking would be a great option to choose.
  4. Do home projects and chores: Keep up with your normal daily chores and take this opportunity to complete some home projects you have lined up. Home projects require a lot of attention and can keep your mind off hunger while fasting. 
  5. Play with your kids: Playing catch, kicking a soccer ball, playing at or walking to the park with your children is another great opportunity to get in some physical activity and boost your neural activity and cognition. 

Your level of busyness may decrease during Ramadan but the point is to stay engaged in productive tasks and more worship. Remember when adding exercise, do only what your body can handle; do not overexert yourself. Take sitting breaks between tasks and definitely take a nap if it will help restore your energy during your fast.

Good Exercises While Fasting 

Studies have shown that there are many benefits to exercising while fasting. It increases our insulin sensitivity, thereby balancing our blood sugar. It also increases the human growth hormone and it speeds up fat loss. 

The Human Growth Hormone (HGH or GH) repairs and regenerates body tissue. It also helps you build muscle and recover after exercise. Production of this important hormone will typically increase after a workout. As for speeding up fat loss, when you workout right before breaking your fast, your body has already used up some or much of your stored glycogen – a deposit stored as a carbohydrate in your tissue. It is your body’s most accessible fuel source. Once you have no glycogen left to burn, your body turns to burning fat for energy. This physiological change can increase your fat-burning ability and help you build lean muscle.

Depending on your body type, age, and if you have an injury or physical disability, there are many types of exercises you can choose from: 

1. Mobility Training or Pilates 

These exercises focus on proprioception, which is our perception and awareness of our body’s positions and movements. These exercises are designed to increase your range-of-motion, control muscles surrounding each joint, and help you move more actively. They help with aligning your body, promote good posture, strengthen the deeper core muscles in your torso, relieve muscle tension, reduce joint deterioration, and prevent aches, pains, and injuring yourself when you engage in high-intensity workouts. If you lack a lot of movement in your day, these are great exercises to start with! 

Here are some examples of what these exercises include: 

  • Breathing deeply
  • Leg lifts
  • Toe taps 
  • Side leg lifts
  • Roll up (start by lying flat with arms above your head, and slowly move your outstretched arms and torso up and reach to touch your toes, and go back)
  • Plank (balancing on your toes and elbows in a push-up position)
  • Ankle mobility 
  • Hip openers

There are many free apps and websites where you can find these exercise routines to follow, such as Youtube, the Nike app, and the Fit Pro app.

2. Low-Intensity Cardio or Aerobic Exercises 

These exercises include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, using the elliptical, and swimming. During our fast we can engage in all these activities except for swimming of course.  You can choose to do any of these for 10-30 minutes 3 to 5 times a week, depending on how much you can handle during a fast. 

The mobility workouts and Pilates can be done anytime during the fast, however, it is best to do it closer to breaking your fast so that you may hydrate on time. For low intensity cardio exercises, it is best to do it within a few hours before breaking your fast so that you can maximize burning fat, gaining muscle, and hydrating yourself on time. Lastly, if you would like to lift heavy weights or engage in high intensity cardio exercises, then it is best to do it an hour or 2 after breaking your fast as these activities require much energy (food and water) which cannot be replenished during a fast. 

When combined with a healthy diet, exercising during fasting can yield positive benefits. Whether your goal is to lose weight, increase your energy levels while fasting or to simply stay healthy, choosing the right type of exercise can help you achieve those goals. 

3. Additional Resources 

Here are additional resources to learn more about exercising and eating healthy during Ramadan. 

The Healthy Muslims: 

A Muslim dietician wife and personal trainer husband duo have published many articles on healthy recipes, finding time to exercise as a busy parent, and a book on eating healthy and exercising during Ramadan.

Amanah Fitness Youtube Channel: 

Coach Amina Khan has a whole playlist of videos focusing only on Fasting Workouts, and another playlist on healthy Ramadan tips.

For Further Reading: 

Exercise Training and Fasting: Current Insights 

Sumayya Khan is a homeschooling mother of two and a teacher. She has worked with several Islamic schools and organizations in the last 10 years. She is currently teaching Literature online with Dawanet and studying the Qur’an through Al-Huda Institute. In her free time, she loves to spend time with her family and friends, play sports, enjoy nature, and read books. She currently resides with her family in Toronto, Canada.


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