Ramadan 2024: Diet, exercise and fasting tips to try

Preparing in a mindful manner can enable your body to adapt more easily

Exercise caution when working out during fasting hours. Getty Images
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Set intentions. That’s the key message from nutrition, fitness and mental health experts during Ramadan.

Spending the holy month in a mindful manner has a twofold effect: it can enable your body to adapt more easily to fasting and help your mind to reap the spiritual benefits.

“Think about habits you would like to break or adopt, or the spiritual and grounding practices you would like to incorporate each day,” says Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and founder of The LightHouse Arabia.

“Then start writing these things down and begin your journey in small ways. For example, if you want to drink less caffeine, engage in gentle exercise every evening, detox from sugar or fried foods, or participate in nightly prayers – start doing that today.

“Also think about small acts of kindness and generosity you can start engaging in. As this becomes more frequent, grow that practice throughout the month of Ramadan and beyond.”

Ramadan is an opportunity for spiritual reflection, renewal and growth, says Wsinee Sukjaroenkraisri, the executive vice president of strategy and programmes at RAKxa Integrative Wellness in Thailand.

“By integrating practices that holistically address physical, mental and spiritual well-being, individuals can unlock the transformative potential of this sacred month,” she says.

Focus on nutrition

Preparing your body for fasting is crucial to staying healthy, says nutritionist Mona Mobarak. “Focus on nutrient-dense foods and stay hydrated. Also avoid overeating at dinner to preserve energy levels during the day,” she says.

Clinical dietitian Juhi Bhambhaney recommends avoiding foods high in salt and spice, as well as garlic, “as these can affect digestion”.

Break fast with nutrient-dense dates, fibre-rich nuts and legumes, as well as protein and good fats that will help slow down the absorption of sugar and stabilise blood sugar levels, says RAKxa's Sukjaroenkraisri.

“Paying attention to meal timing, digestion and staying hydrated are fundamentals for nutritional balance during Ramadan.”

Fasting provides a necessary break for your brain from harmful neurotoxins that may otherwise be experienced in significant amounts
Nokhez Usama, neuropsychologist

ASICS Frontrunner Khulood Ibrahim, a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, believes the main prep starts with suhoor. “The predawn meal, which is essential to have before fasting starts, can be balanced with carbs, protein and fat, and include fruits and vegetables to increase the feeling of fullness. Avoid caffeinated drinks to remain hydrated.”

Fasting for people with medical conditions

If you have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease, it is crucial to manage your medications effectively during Ramadan, says Dr Swati Prasad, Specialist Internal Medicine, Aster Royal Clinic, Downtown Dubai.

“Consult with your healthcare provider, and consider adjustments to your medication regimen, including timing, dosage, or frequency, to accommodate fasting while ensuring optimal disease management,” she says. “Monitor your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and other relevant parameters closely, and seek medical advice if needed.”

Being aware of nutrition intake to ensure optimal digestion is crucial for diabetics, says Mitun de Sarkar, who is also managing director of meal delivery service Simply Healthy. “People with Type 2 diabetes should visit a doctor a week or two in advance to monitor their blood glucose and HbA1C levels for any change of medication if required.

“If you are a Type 1 diabetic and intend to fast, it is crucial to monitor your blood sugar up to four times a day to mitigate health risks, and adjust insulin doses according to food intake and activity,” she says.

“Diabetics also have to be cautious about not overburdening their body with large, carbohydrate-heavy meals at iftar to avoid risk of post-meal hyperglycaemia. Instead, eat small meals every two to three hours during non-fasting hours: so a light iftar followed by dinner, a small protein-based snack before bedtime and a balanced suhoor.”

Exercise caution

Be mindful of your body's limitations and avoid strenuous activities that may lead to dehydration or fatigue, advises Dr Prasad.

Dina Zoa, founder and chief executive of Stretch.com, offers advice on adjusting your exercising pattern. “Opting for less intense workouts and focusing more on mobility, flexibility and core training is a great way to start,” she says.

“Look to yoga and meditation, as prioritising your mental well-being can help you maintain motivation, focus and resilience.”

Zoa recommends avoiding intense exercise during fasting hours. “Incorporating moderate exercise after breaking your fast can help boost energy levels and improve overall fitness,” she says.

Helena Hijazi, the founder of fitness chain FitnGlam, says Ramadan is a beautiful time to reflect and slow down, but there’s no need to stop exercising.

“I find working out before iftar effective for the body and mind. If that doesn’t fit your schedule or energy levels, a simple walk after iftar is also a great way to keep active and connect with the peacefulness of the month,” she says.

Effects of fasting on the body

Fasting can also help to cleanse the body and the mind, say the experts.

“Physically, a time-restricted fasting model has various benefits such as body fat burning by reducing the fat storage hormone insulin,” says Bhambhaney. “Some studies have also reported a reduction in LDL or bad cholesterol and inflammation.”

Clinical dietitian Archana Baju from Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, recommends that those fasting seek out the following “cleansing” foods: fibre-rich fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, lean proteins and plant proteins. Foods to avoid include carbonated drinks, junk foods, refined carbohydrates, calorie-dense sweets and fried foods.

As for the effects of fasting on mental health, Nokhez Usama, a neuropsychologist, behavioural researcher and mental health and wellness consultant, says: “Fasting provides a necessary break for your brain from harmful neurotoxins that may otherwise be experienced in significant amounts. The chemicals and additives consumed by way of unhealthy food and lifestyle choices, pollution, work stress or excessive social media usage can cause inflammation in the brain.

“Neuroinflammation has an impact on cognitive and behavioural functioning, resulting in decreased effectiveness and efficiency. In addition to its spiritual and mindfulness effects, research shows fasting has consistently been associated with decreased neuroinflammation. While the processes involved are complex, it is widely understood that fasting can increase neuroprotective factors, thereby improving cognitive, executive and emotional functioning.”

Taking car servicing as a metaphor, Usama adds: “Using the wrong fuel for your car and neglecting regular checks can lead to engine damage, while fasting is like taking a car in for maintenance. Use the time to recognise what you need to do to achieve mindfulness.”

Be mindful of how your physical environment influences your state of mind, says RAKxa's Sukjaroenkraisri. “You are likely to be spending more time indoors so surround yourself with calming sounds, such as nature soundtracks, to alleviate stress and promote a sense of inner calm.”

After Ramadan

Transitioning back to regular eating and lifestyle habits after Ramadan also requires careful consideration, adds Sukjaroenkraisri.

“Maintaining the healthier choices adopted during the holy month and incorporating practices like sun-gazing and essential oils can help restore the body's natural rhythms and promote long-term well-being,” she says.

Updated: March 17, 2024, 7:11 AM