Islam is the official state religion of the United Arab Emirates, which means that this June and July, millions of UAE citizens will refuse food and drink between sunrise and sunset in celebration of the Holy Month of Ramadan.
While fasting during Ramadan is a spiritual practice intended to bring Muslims closer to the Faith, some in the UAE are using it as an opportunity to lose weight (after all, obesity is becoming an epidemic in the UAE). According to The National, a growing number of Muslims are exercising intensely before sunset as a means of capitalizing on their fasting. However, physicians warn this can cause a number of negative health effects.
Hussain al Nowais, a frequent traveler to the UAE and a health and fitness enthusiast, has long advocated for sensible approaches to health and weight loss, and sees this excessive exercise as alarming.
Most individuals who fast this Ramadan will deprive their bodies of food and water for 15 hours, which itself increases the body’s risk of dehydration and fatigue. Added exercise before Iftar (the evening meal) only increases an individual’s risk for these adverse effects, as well as heightens the chance of developing hypoglycemia. When individuals exercise with depleted reserves of water and carbohydrates, physicians say that what ends up being burned off is muscle tissue, rather than fat.
Sugar levels will also drop dramatically after fifteen hours of fasting, and added exercise will lower sugar levels further, causing excessive sweating, palpitations, anxiety, and seizures. Those with Type 2 Diabetes are especially cautioned against exercising to any degree during Ramadan.
Those undeterred by health hazards and only concerned with weight loss should note that physicians also state that exercise during fasting does not help individuals lose more weight; any weight decrease can only be attributed to the loss of water and muscle, both of which will return after a normal eating routine is resumed.
Thus, though it may be tempting to make meaningful strides toward weight loss with heavy exercise during Ramadan, as Hussain al Nowais and health officials warn, doing such is neither effective nor safe.