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Fitness – Why be healthy?

By Dr. Abdul-Wahab Khan and Dr. M. Nazir Khan

In today’s busy and hectic world, many of us are faced with constant hurdles in our journey towards maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. Many of us are confused on the subject of health and fitness, and have passed the years listening to conflicting advice and opinions. As a result, we are unsure of where to start, how to stay motivated, and why we aren’t reaching our goals. In this short piece, we will cover the benefits of exercise from an Islamic and physiologic perspective, ways to stay motivated, plan towards achieving realistic goals, and plan an exercise program that you can follow.

Fitness has become one of the hottest topics in society. Whether you’re seeing a commercial about a new exercise app or gadget, or listening to a friend talk about their new work-out routine, it seems everywhere you turn there is talk about getting into shape. But why be fit? Making lifestyle changes can be hard and require a lot of effort. If we’re going to succeed in making lifestyle changes, we need to make sure we are doing it for the right reasons.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said “Actions depend on one’s intentions. A person will only achieve what they intended” (Sahih Bukhari). Starting out with the right intention is absolutely key to the lifelong journey of health and fitness. Without recognizing the Islamic and physiological benefits of exercise, you are far less likely to value your health and be firm in your commitment.

The spiritual importance of physical fitness

The human being has been placed on earth as a Divinely-appointed custodian tasked with spreading goodness and forbidding evil and injustice. The Qur’an says, “And he made you custodians upon the earth” (27:62). 1Ibn Ashur notes in his Qur’anic exegesis on this verse that having been made khulafa entails that humans are responsible for the positive development of this world and cultivating its benefit for humanity. { ويجعلكم خلفاء الأرض } أي يجعلكم تعمرون الأرض وتجتنون منافعها، فضمن الخلفاء معنى المالكين فأضيف إلى الأرض على تقدير: مالكين لها، والملك يستلزم الانتفاع بما ينتفع به منها.  The human mission is to restore and preserve the rights of all creation, including all humanity, animals, the environment, and even one’s own body. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once told a companion who was praying throughout the night, “Verily, your Lord has a right over you, and your family has a right over you, and your body has a right over you. So fulfill each right” (Sahih Bukhari).

In the Islamic paradigm, life is a spiritual journey towards God, to cherish His countless blessings upon us and show thankfulness and gratitude. The Prophet Muhammad said, “There are two key blessings that most people fail to perceive – good health and free time” (Sahih Bukhari). The health of one’s body is a tremendous blessing from God that one should be immensely grateful for and seek to preserve. Disregarding one’s health is ingratitude towards God.

Islam encourages one to exercise and be in good physical fitness. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said “A strong believer is better and dearer to God than a weak believer, though in both is good” (Sahih Muslim). While both the weak and the strong believer have the benefit of faith, the one who is physically stronger is better before God for the reason that he or she is more active and energetic in the performance of worship and taking care of the needs of others. Medical research has demonstrated that high fat diets are associated with increased incidence of depression and a negative emotional state.2Singh M. Mood, food, and obesity. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5:925. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00925. This translates into low motivation and inability to accomplish positive changes in one’s life, thus impeding one’s spiritual progress and furthering poor choices. As the early scholar Ibn Abi al-Dunya (d.281H) relates, “Excessive food deadens the heart” and Sahl al-Tustari (d.284H) argued that satiety and sin go hand-in-hand.

It must also be noted that the Prophet Muhammad, the role model for all believers, maintained his physical fitness which was evident in his appearance. We are informed that “the Prophet had a broad chest and flat abdomen and he had broad shoulders” (Tirmidhi). Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin, described his energetic manner of walking: “When he walked, because of the speed and force of the legs, it seemed as if he was descending from a high place.” Abu Huraira stated, “We found it difficult to keep pace when we walked with him and he walked at his normal pace.”

Engaging in physical fitness also gives us the opportunity to spend quality time and laugh with our loved ones. The wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Aisha said, “I raced with the Prophet and beat him in the race. Later, when I had put on some weight, we raced again and he won. Then he said, ‘This time is for that,’ referring to the previous occasion” (Musnad Ahmad).

If our sincere intention is to improve our physical health for the sake of God and to follow the example of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him), then every minute we spend in exercise will be counted as time spent in the worship of God and will merit Divine reward.

The medical importance of physical fitness

The physiologic benefits of regular exercise and staying healthy are well recognized and backed by strong clinical evidence. Physical inactivity is a major health problem worldwide, particularly in developed countries.3Kodama S, Tanaka S, Heianza Y, et al. Association Between Physical Activity and Risk of All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Disease in Patients With Diabetes: A meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2013;36(2):471-479. doi:10.2337/dc12-0783. A sedentary lifestyle on its own can lead to heart disease and diabetes, irrespective of one’s diet.4Fletcher, E., Leech, R., McNaughton, S. A., Dunstan, D. W., Lacy, K. E. and Salmon, J. (2015), Is the relationship between sedentary behaviour and cardiometabolic health in adolescents independent of dietary intake? A systematic review. Obesity Reviews. doi: 10.1111/obr.12302

Our bodies are engineered in such a way that they require physical activity in order to be healthy and functional.5Powell KE, Paluch AE, Blair SN. Physical activity for health: What kind? How much? How intense? On top of what? Annu Rev Public Health. 2011;32:349-65. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031210-101151.. The good news is that even modest changes to a sedentary lifestyle can bring substantial health benefits. One can start by interrupting long periods of sitting with household activities such as vacuuming, laundry, gardening, raking the leaves, painting, or taking out the trash. It is essential to break bad habits of prolonged television watching or excessive time sitting in front of the computer.

Thousands of studies have shown that physical activity decreases the incidence of pre-mature death, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, cancer, depression, falls and much more.6Jacobsen It has been estimated that approximately 12 percent of all mortality in the United States is related to the lack of regular physical activity and that physical inactivity is associated with at least a twofold increase in the risk for coronary events 7Powell KE, Thompson PD, Caspersen CJ, Kendrick JS. Physical activity and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Annu Rev Public Health 1987; 8:253.It is easy to shrug off thoughts of illness and take our present health for granted, but many may know someone who suffers from the aforementioned conditions. Next time you need motivation, remind yourself that you are committing to staying fit so you can live a long healthy, disease-free life, that is full of good deeds. Make the commitment to be there for your spouse, children, or grandchildren in the years to come, and that you won’t let preventable diseases and poor fitness slow you down.

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Steps to Fitness


Step 1 – Motivation

As hinted above, motivation boils down to having a goal that means enough to you that you will overcome any obstacle to achieve it. However, we are all much more likely to arrive at our goals if we take a route that we enjoy. And so whenever someones asks “which exercise should I do to get in shape?”, one of the best answers is “Do what you enjoy doing”. If you like to play basketball, tennis, squash, run or swim, capitalize on that. It will make it all the more easy to stay consistent and stay in shape.

Step 2 – Goal setting – be specific and realistic

The old saying holds just as true in fitness, where failing to plan is planning to fail. “Getting in shape” is not a goal. Losing thirty pounds in one year, being able to run a mile in seven minutes, being able to squat two hundred pounds in two years are all specific, excellent goals. Planning towards those goals involves a regular and progressive exercise program, a healthy well-balanced diet, and adequate rest. That is all that is needed to get healthy and staying in shape – proper exercise, diet and rest.

Take an afternoon to sit down, and start by approaching things mentally. Think about what it is exactly you want to achieve, and what you have to do to make the journey enjoyable, sustainable and possible. Begin by writing these specific goals down and make sure they are measurable, realistic and precise. Make note of what exactly you will change to your diet, and how you will ensure you get enough sleep to feel refreshed and energetic. After you’ve planned things out, you’ll feel much more excited and confident in being able to achieve your goals. You will also be able to review your approach when you find things aren’t working, and won’t make the mistake of sticking in a rut and not progressing forward.

Step 3 – Know your health conditions

Before discussing an exercise routine, or exercise prescription, it is important to be aware that exercising has risks, especially for people who are elderly or have heart disease. However, the American Colloege of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and American Heart Association (AHA) have recently stated that “Physicians should not overestimate the risks of exercise because the benefits of habitual physical activity substantially outweigh the risks.”8 AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION AND AMERICAN COLLEGE OF SPORTS MEDICINE. Joint Position Statement: Exercise and acute cardiovascular events: placing the risks into perspective. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 39:886–897, 2007. What this means is that precautions should be taken when planning out an exercise program for any individual rather than avoiding exercise altogether. Sedentary individuals or those who exercise infrequently should begin their programs at lower intensities and progress at a slower rate. Individuals who may have cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, or kidney disease should obtain medical clearance before beginning a vigorous intensity exercise program. For safety, always discuss your medical conditions with your doctor before starting an exercise routine.

Step 4 – Develop a suitable exercise schedule

Even more important than developing an exercise routine is giving due importance to healthy nutrition. Many individuals fail to realize that we are what we eat and that more than half of having a healthy, aesthetic physique is having healthy nutrition. These individuals will run for hours each week, but refuse to take a few minutes to identify and address the flaws in their diets. One simply can’t ‘out-train’ bad nutrition. Any exercise routine that is not coupled to proper nutrition is doomed. For the purpose of this article, our attention will focus here on the exercise prescription.

There are three main components to an exercise prescription; the Frequency, Intensity, Time (FIT). These vary according to age and fitness level. Healthy adults (with no medical conditions and under 65 years of age) should participate in aerobic exercise four to five times per week, at moderate intensity for approximately thirty to sixty minutes per session. Moderate intensity can be calculated based on your heart rate, or can simply be described by how difficult you perceive the exercise to be.9referred to as the Rating of Perceived Exertion, RPE The precise calculation of a target heart rate can be derived using one’s maximum and resting heart rate according to the Karvonen equation.10If you are trying to precisely calculate a target heart rate you should exercise at, you will need to know your resting heart rate (HRrest), and your maximum heart rate (HRmax). Let’s look at the example below, applying the Karvonen equation:
A 55 year old man wants to start exercising at moderate (50%) intensity. Target Exercise HR = % of target intensity x (HRmax – HRrest) + HRrest (Karvonen equation).
Begin with calculating the man’s maximum heart rate (HRmax). This is calculated by 220 minus age.
220- 55 = 165 beats per minute (bpm)
His normal resting heart rate is 80 bpm.
Put this together: 50% x (165-80) + 80 = 123 bpm
Therefore, his target heart rate while exercising is 123 bpm. Alternatively, he could exercise at a level that he subjectively feels is “moderate” based on the RPE. He should exercise at this heart rate for 30 to 60 minutes, 4 to 5 times per week.

If you want to add weights, or resistance training to your program, your exercise prescription will also vary depending on your age and level of experience with weights. If you’re a novice lifter, aim to train 3 to 4 times per week, working each muscle group once per week, and perform 2 to 4 sets of exercises. You should pick a weight that you can perform 8 to 12 reps (repetitions), which is a working weight of approximately 60% your one-rep maximum weight. If you’re a more experienced weight lifter, you should aim to train 4 to 5 times per week, working each muscle group one to two times per week, and perform 2 to 4 different exercises. You should pick a weight that you can perform 6 to 8 reps with, which is a working weight of approximately 80% your one-rep maximum weight. Be sure to rest 2 to 3 minutes between sets. Compound movements and exercises that involve multiple joints are best, such as bench press, squat, deadlift, shoulder press and pull ups. Always be sure to work within your limits and use perfect technique. Just as importantly, be sure to sleep 7 to 9 hours each night, and eat a healthy diet.

Step 5 – Staying committed

Staying fit is not as difficult as popular culture and the media make it out to be. There are no secrets, no shortcuts, and no reasons to be spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars every year, chasing the cutting edge routines and fad diets. Magazines and internet videos might make it seem as if your goals can only be dreams, but they are certainly attainable. It just requires dedication to the steps outlined here. All you now have to do is stay committed and be patient. The results will take some time, but it will be worth it inshaAllah.

Picking an exercise or sport you enjoy makes it much easier to perform after a long day of work or cold walk home. Join a basketball tournament, martial arts clubs, soccer team, or get a gym buddy. Finding the right crowd makes a world of difference. Surround yourself with similarly motivated and highly active individuals rather than a gang of couch potatoes. Support each other and have fun!

 

References   [ + ]

1. Ibn Ashur notes in his Qur’anic exegesis on this verse that having been made khulafa entails that humans are responsible for the positive development of this world and cultivating its benefit for humanity. { ويجعلكم خلفاء الأرض } أي يجعلكم تعمرون الأرض وتجتنون منافعها، فضمن الخلفاء معنى المالكين فأضيف إلى الأرض على تقدير: مالكين لها، والملك يستلزم الانتفاع بما ينتفع به منها.
2. Singh M. Mood, food, and obesity. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5:925. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00925.
3. Kodama S, Tanaka S, Heianza Y, et al. Association Between Physical Activity and Risk of All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Disease in Patients With Diabetes: A meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2013;36(2):471-479. doi:10.2337/dc12-0783.
4. Fletcher, E., Leech, R., McNaughton, S. A., Dunstan, D. W., Lacy, K. E. and Salmon, J. (2015), Is the relationship between sedentary behaviour and cardiometabolic health in adolescents independent of dietary intake? A systematic review. Obesity Reviews. doi: 10.1111/obr.12302
5. Powell KE, Paluch AE, Blair SN. Physical activity for health: What kind? How much? How intense? On top of what? Annu Rev Public Health. 2011;32:349-65. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031210-101151.
6. Jacobsen
7. Powell KE, Thompson PD, Caspersen CJ, Kendrick JS. Physical activity and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Annu Rev Public Health 1987; 8:253.
8. AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION AND AMERICAN COLLEGE OF SPORTS MEDICINE. Joint Position Statement: Exercise and acute cardiovascular events: placing the risks into perspective. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 39:886–897, 2007.
9. referred to as the Rating of Perceived Exertion, RPE
10. If you are trying to precisely calculate a target heart rate you should exercise at, you will need to know your resting heart rate (HRrest), and your maximum heart rate (HRmax). Let’s look at the example below, applying the Karvonen equation:
A 55 year old man wants to start exercising at moderate (50%) intensity. Target Exercise HR = % of target intensity x (HRmax – HRrest) + HRrest (Karvonen equation).
Begin with calculating the man’s maximum heart rate (HRmax). This is calculated by 220 minus age.
220- 55 = 165 beats per minute (bpm)
His normal resting heart rate is 80 bpm.
Put this together: 50% x (165-80) + 80 = 123 bpm
Therefore, his target heart rate while exercising is 123 bpm. Alternatively, he could exercise at a level that he subjectively feels is “moderate” based on the RPE. He should exercise at this heart rate for 30 to 60 minutes, 4 to 5 times per week.
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