Ramadan: Experts weigh in on benefits of fasting during holy month

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As Muslims across the world mark the first day of Ramadan on Thursday, experts say fasting can be advantageous to the health of adults and teenagers as well.

“Fasting is beneficial for everyone, including young adults,” May Aljoudeh, a clinical dietician at Burjeel Farha Hospital in Al Ain told Al Arabiya English. “Fasting plays a role in lowering the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as hyperlipidemia, stroke, and hypertension.”

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In observance of the holy month, Muslims fast for 29 or 30 days from dawn till sunset.

“While fasting, we are not constantly exposing our bodies to unhealthy foods or ingredients such as added sugar, fat, salt, etc. The body becomes more sensitive to these ingredients,” the dietician added.

This is beneficial especially to those with a family history of chronic illnesses like diabetes.

“When there is less sugar in the blood, the body manages sugar more efficiently. Also, because we are not constantly eating throughout the day, our pancreas does not secrete insulin all day, making the cells more sensitive and reducing insulin resistance,” she said.

Fasting can also be beneficial for young adults as it helps in increasing focus, Aljoudeh said, especially as many students prepare for yearly academic exams.

“When we fast for long periods, it increases the natural growth factors in the brain and supports the survival and growth of the brain. Fasting boosts cognition,” she said.

“Neurotransmitters are essential chemical components of the brain. They send signals that not only affects how we function, speak, and think but also how we feel. Many studies have shown that fasting can increase the level of serotonin in the blood, a neurotransmitter that has been strongly linked to depression and anxiety once it is depleted.”

Managing stress while fasting

While the dietician said fasting helps in reducing stress, other experts have advised Muslim teenagers on how to manage their stress levels during a time critical in the school year.

Dr. Renuka Ramasamy, a specialist in family medicine at Dubai’s International Modern Hospital, told Al Arabiya English: “It is a big challenge and stressful period for both [Muslim] adults and adolescents in high schools and universities.”

It is critical youngsters be mindful of the added pressure during this period, Dr. Ramasamy said.

“It is very important that you eat sensibly at iftar and suhoor. Eat food that releases energy slowly such as carbohydrates, fruits, whole grain and nuts which keeps you active the whole day,” she advised.

“Also make sure [to] drink lots of water and rehydrate yourself.”

The doctor also mentioned sleeping adequately for at least six continuous hours per night during this time reduces stress and aids in studying effectively.

“Also, positive thoughts boost your mind and keep your mind clear without any confusion and anxiety,” she said. “Another important advice is doing exercise during fasting.”

Exercise is a well-known fact to maintain your mental well-being, she said.

“Exercise cures your low mood, depression and stress... But please select the correct type of exercise during fasting period,” Dr. Ramasamy added.

However, high intensity tiring workouts while fasting are not recommended.

“You can always go for light intensity exercises such as walking, swimming and aerobic exercise at home.”

Read more:

Ramadan 2023: Experts advise teens on managing stress amid fasting and exams

Ramadan 2023: How does fasting during the holy month affect your mental health?

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