Gym hazards during Ramadan

Exercise patterns must be modified during the holy month, say experts, to avoid tiredness during the hours of abstinence.

September 3 , 2009 / Abu Dhabi / Khaled Al Ajeil works out at the World's Gym in Abu Dhabi September 3 , 2009. ( Sammy Dallal / The National) *** Local Caption ***  sd-090309-workout-05.jpg
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ABU DHABI // When Khaled al Ajeil goes to the gym, he spends at least an hour working out - on an empty stomach and with no water. He is fasting for Ramadan. "It's a good way of staying fit," says Mr al Ajeil, 44, who usually does cardio and weightlifting. "But I avoid cardio before iftar because I don't want to lose more weight."

Those fasting during the holy month are being encouraged to exercise, but to do so with care and to consider the effect on their bodies of having had no food or water during the day. After iftar, people tend to have a big meal and follow it with sweets. According to Sally al Awar, a clinical dietician based in Abu Dhabi, the high consumption of food and sugars along with the lack of exercise can lead to people gaining at least two to three kilograms by the end of the month.

"Exercise can be in different forms. They can go for a walk or brisk walking before iftar," said Ms al Awar. "Or, once they have had iftar, they can go for the more strenuous exercise such as football or basketball - as long as they've already restored their water and glucose levels." Exercising before iftar can also help people lose weight faster. "Exercising before iftar is definitely a way to increase the metabolic rate before having food ? The mechanism of the body [to burn calories] is faster," she said.

However, exercising without having food or liquids for a long period of time was not ideal for everybody. "Although it is preferable to exercise before iftar, you can't advise everyone to do that because some people are really tired two to three hours before iftar," she said. "Their sugar levels are very low and they are very thirsty - and adding exercise, even if it's just walking, can get them more tired."

Mr al Ajeil said his decreased energy levels had prompted him to modify his exercise routine. "The effort in Ramadan is different. "Instead of working on two muscles a day, in Ramadan I work on one. I also shorten the exercises." Sameh Abdul Ghani, fitness manager at World Gym in Abu Dhabi, said he had noticed an increase of clients since the start of the holy month. "They eat a lot of desserts during Ramadan, so they want to keep fit and exercise."

The peak times are just before iftar and after Taraweeh prayers at night, said Mr Abdul Ghani. Trainers at the gym kept a closer eye on their clients during the month and looked for signs of exhaustion and fatigue. "But so far, our clients seem to know what they're doing." Shereen Alyousef, 27, goes to the gym every day after iftar. She will not risk going before. "It can be dangerous. I would feel dizzy and can't concentrate."

Excessive eating is what motivates her to exercise during Ramadan. "I eat more sweets, so I have to reduce my weight, otherwise I would gain 20lb [9kg]." Walkers and joggers on the Corniche also try to stay fit, even in soaring temperatures. Among them are Mahmoud Zaarour, 27, and his friend Mutaz al Atrash, 29, who head there daily before iftar. "In Ramadan, you either gain or lose weight," said Mr al Atrash. "We walk or jog just before iftar so when we go back home and it's time for iftar, we drink lots of water so we won't eat a lot."

According to Ms al Awar, this is a good idea for people who do not want to let their fitness slide during the holy month. "It minimises the food intake. But anyway, you need to drink between iftar and sohour not less than two to three litres of water. Especially now, because it's very hot, we tend to get dehydrated quickly." While stressing the need to replenish fluids after iftar, Ms al Awar also recommends getting up for sohour in the morning.

"Sohour, apart from it being the sunnah [recommended by the Prophet Mohammed], is also needed to replenish water, salts and sugar levels. That's why the most preferable sohour is yoghurt and dates. Yoghurt has water, calcium, proteins that the body needs. And dates have sugar, minerals and fibre." And for people who cannot resist the Ramadan sweets? "You don't necessarily have to have the Arabic traditional sweets that are full of fat, sugar and sweet and grease every day," she said. "Have it twice or three times a week. Enjoy Ramadan.

"For those who want to lose weight, it's a chance to lose weight and for those who want to stay fit and detoxify themselves, it's also the chance."