I glance at the clock, 3 minutes to go. When I was a teenager, the few minutes before iftar (breaking fast during Ramadan) were excruciating. But now, 20 years later, I get a rush of adrenaline. I feel strong and grateful to have completed my fast. Toward the end of Ramadan is when my spirit is at its highest. A month of fasting from food, water, pleasurable activities, and negative thoughts/words from sunrise to sunset has recharged my soul. The Quran says, “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” — Surat Al-Baqarah 2:183
Humankind has been fasting since ancient times, and fasting continues to be a path to piety in modern day religions. Over the last few decades, science has proven that fasting also has health and mental health benefits.
The Physical Health Benefits Of Fasting
In 1994, the first International Congress on “Health and Ramadan” was held in Casablanca. Fifty research articles on the medical ethics of fasting (from all over the world) were presented. The studies found:
1. Fasting improved the condition of people suffering from mild to moderate diseases, such as non-insulin dependent diabetes, essential hypertension, lowering blood sugar levels, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the lipids profile.
2. Fasting improves digestive health and weight management. Fasting for periods shorter than 24 hours (intermittent fasting) has been shown to be effective for weight loss in obese and healthy adults. Taking a light walk before breaking fast will speed up your metabolism and promote weight loss.
3. Fasting improves brain function and productivity. Fasting upsurges a process known as autophagy. It disposes of damaged molecules, ones that may be tied to neurological diseases. After the disposable new brain cells are created via a process called neurogenesis, which helps to establish new connections in the brain and may very well improve your cognitive abilities.
Though it should be stressed, that patients who are suffering from severe diseases, whether type I diabetes or coronary artery disease, kidney stones, etc. are exempted from fasting and should not be allowed to fast.
The Mental Health Benefits of Fasting
In addition to fasting from food and drink, fasting also includes abstaining from impure and unkind thoughts and actions. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “If one slanders you or aggresses against you, say I am fasting.” Positive behavior is a natural stress reducer. Research has shown that positive thinking may improve physical well-being, produce lower feelings of depression and produce lower levels of distress. Choosing piety over retaliation and purity over impulse relax the mind.
The increased prayer during Ramadan is also a confirmed stressed reducer. Harold Koenig, M.D., associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at Duke University found in his research, “People who are more religious tend to become depressed less often. When they do become depressed, they recover more quickly.”
As you complete the final days of Ramadan fasting, I hope you achieved the peace, good health, and mental clarity that Ramadan affords.
Natasha Khan Kazi is a blogger based out of Los Angeles, Ca. She shares how her family celebrates everything on www.IslamiMommy.com.