Fasting in Ramadan: Unhealthy? Part 2

03 June, 2017
Q Dear All, I wanted to ask about the health benefits of fasting in Ramadan. I have non-Muslim colleagues who think that this practice is unhealthy and not good. They do not of course take into account any religious dimensions. I want to explain to them at least the health benefits. Please provide me with more information on that topic. Thank you.


Salam (Peace) Christopher,

Thank you very much for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam. Please find part one at the link here

Fasting and bio-rhythm

Muslims who have been fasting regularly since childhood have been exposed to different sleep/wake and light/darkness cycles on a daily basis in one annual lunar month.

Hence, it may be easier for such persons to synchronize at a faster rate their circadian, circa-lunar and circa-annual bio-rhythms, under difficult conditions.

Therefore, it is expected that Muslims who fast regularly would least suffer from jet lag while traveling in a plane from West to East and that health problems in Muslim shift-workers would be minimal.

In fact, the central circadian biological clock is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. It is a cluster of about 10,000 neurons on either side of the mid line, above the optic chiasma about 3 cm behind the eye.

Re-setting proceeds at the rate of 1-2 hours/day to adapt to a reversed shift pattern. There are widespread individual variations in the rapidity of resynchronization.

Muslims who fast regularly and who have had disturbed wakefulness/sleep cycles on a daily lunar annual basis, can adapt themselves much faster to different conditions during international travel. This is while crossing time zones and do not suffer from the ill effects of jet lag.

It is also a common observation that as soon as Ramadan is over, normal circadian rhythms are established within the fasted Muslim, with such great rapidity on the first day of the following month of Shawal. This means that `Eid-al-Fitr (Minor Feast) is to be at par with pre-Ramadan levels.

Normally, a period of three weeks is required for resynchronization, among shift workers. As the fasting Muslim attunes himself to resynchronization processes, during the space of just over four weeks in Ramadan, his health problems – as a shift worker – would be negligible. His synchronization processes would be more rapid, whether during Ramadan or any other time.

The Benefits of Long Night Prayers

Moreover, the social contact during tarawih or qiyam (long night prayers) and other social spiritual activities should act as a zeitgeber (from German ‘time-giver’). This is what regulates any desynchronized biological rhythm.

Throughout the year, the average Muslim performs his 5-time daily obligatory prayers, as well as the optional ones. This amounts to gentle physical exercise, involving each and every muscle in the body.

During the month of fasting, additional prayers of 8-20 rak`as (physical unit of prayer) are also performed at nights. Approximately, 200 kcals. are utilized during qiyam for the 20 rak`as.

Such additional exercise utilizes any extra calories, ingested at iftar (meal for breaking the fast) approximately 1-2 hours earlier. Simultaneously, the blood glucose is steadily rising in the blood from the ingested nutrients; the circulating glucose is oxidized to CO2 and H20 during the prayers.

The physical movements during qiyam prayers improve flexibility, co-ordination and relaxation response. It also reduces stress-related autonomic responses in normal persons and relieves anxiety and depression.

Adrenaline and noradrenalin are secreted during the physical exercise of qiyam. They are responsible for the consequent dynamism, which now combines with the tranquility and the serenity, due to the secretion of enkephalins, endorphins, dynorphins and others.

This makes the night prayers unique in the sense that dynamism is combined in the same individual with serenity, euphoria and dignity. The effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline are apparent, even after long night prayers is over, as evidenced by the continuing activity.

In fact, even the thought or intention of performing qiyam prayers is sufficient to activate the sympathetic nervous system. Persons who fast and perform qiyam report feeling much better and healthier.

Repeated and regular movements of the body during prayers improve muscle tone and power, tendon strength, joint flexibility and the cardio-vascular reserve. The body movements help to prevent osteoporosis in the osteoporotic bones of elderly men and post-menopausal women.

The strain put on the forearm, during prostration in lifting the body from the ground, increases the bone mineral content of the forearm. The varying load during the different postures causes a lubricating effect and a protective flow of synovial fluid into the joint cavity.

The reinforcement of the calf muscle pump by active ankle movements prevents deep vein thrombosis, which is a common cause of chronic ulcers of the legs in the elderly.

Exercise prevents coronary heart disease, improves carbohydrate tolerance and ameliorates late-onset type 2 diabetes. Growth hormone secretion elevated by fasting is further elevated by exercise of long night prayers.

As this hormone is necessary for collagen formation, this may be an important factor in the long delay of the wrinkling of skin for the fasting Muslim who performs qiyam prayers.

Exercise of qiyam improves mood, thought, and behavior. Memory for short-term events deteriorates with old age.

Prayers improve memory in the elderly, for short-term events, by keeping the memory pathways in the brain open and communicating with each other, especially with constant repetition of the verses from the holy Quran and other supplications of Allah’s glory. This also helps to screen the mind from other incoming thoughts.

The repetition of a prayer, supplications of glorification, dhikr (words glorifying Allah) or muscular activity, coupled with passive disregard of intrusive thoughts, causes a relaxation response, leading to lowering of B.P. and decrease in oxygen consumption, as well as a reduction in the heart and respiratory rates.

All these are combined in qiyam prayers, which is an ideal situation for relaxation response, as it combines repeated muscular activity with repetition of words of glorification of Allah and supplications.

Thus qiyam puts the mind at ease. Islamic prayers are unique in that tension builds up in the muscles, during the physical movements of prayers, with accompanying adrenaline and noradrenalin. Simultaneously, tension is relieved in the mind due to the spiritual component, assisted by the secretion of enkephalins, endorphins, dynorphins and others.

All those persons who perform qiyam prayers feel more alert and active, even after the age of retirement. They can meet with unexpected challenges of life much better, such as running for a bus! This improves their stamina, self-esteem and self-confidence in being independent.

I hope this answer is sufficient. Please keep in touch.


Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Intermittent Fasting: Clarifying Facts from Fad

5 Health & Spiritual Benefits of Fasting