May 23, 2013 | 11:48 PM (BD Time)
23 May, 2013 Thursday
The medical benefits of fasting
Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. :
Muslims derive therapeutic and spiritual benefits starting from the Wudu to the physical movements in the Salat - Takbir, Qiyam, Ruku, Sajda, Jalsa, and Tasleems. Muslims perform five daily contact prayers (Salat) and voluntary (Sunnah, Nafl) prayers throughout the year and Taraweeh prayers during the month of Ramzan. This results in moderate physical exercise particularly to every muscle in the body. Some muscles contract isometrically (same length) and some contract in approximation or isotonically (same tension). The energy needed for the muscle during exercise is met by a process known as glycogenolysis. The rate of muscle metabolism increases during the performance of Salat, resulting in a relative deficiency of oxygen and muscle nutrients. In turn this deficiency causes vasodilation - an increase in the calibre of blood vessels - thereby allowing blood to flow easily back to the heart. The temporarily increased load on the heart acts to strengthen the heart muscle and to improve the circulation within the heart muscle.
During the month of Ramzan, additional prayers are performed after salatul Isha, called Taraweeh prayers which vary from 8 rakat (unit of prayer) to 20 rakat with a few minutes break after every 4 rakat for chanting and extolling the Majesty of Allah. After Iftar (breaking of fast) the blood glucose level continues to rise from the food ingested. Just before the Iftar meals, the blood glucose and insulin levels are at their lowest level. After an hour or so after the Iftar meal, the blood glucose begins to rise and also plasma insulin. Liver and the muscles take up the circulating glucose. The blood sugar reaches high levels in an hour or two and the benefits of Taraweeh prayers come into effect. The circulating glucose is metabolised into carbon dioxide and water during the Taraweeh prayers.
Hence the Taraweeh prayers help in expending the extra calories and improve flexibility, coordination, reduce stress-related autonomic responses in healthy persons, and relieve anxiety and depression.
The gentle exercises performed in Taraweeh prayers improve physical fitness, emotional well-being and increase the longevity of the Namazi (one who performs the Salat or Namaz). When a little extra effort is made, as in performing the Taraweeh prayers, there will be a betterment in the endurance, stamina, in flexibility and strength. It was noted that the five daily prayers (Salat) produce the same physiological changes without any undesirable side effects as those produced by jogging or walking at about three miles per hour. Recent research studies performed on 17,000 Harvard alumni who entered college between 1916-1950 give strong evidence that only moderate aerobic exercise, equivalent to jogging about 3 miles a day, promotes good health and may actually add years to life. Men who expended about 2000 kcal of energy on a weekly basis (equal to a daily 30-minute walk, run, cycle, swim, etc.,) had one-quarter to one-third lower death rates than classmates who did little or no exercise. In addition to the health-boosting qualities of the Salat, the Namazi will be trained to be ever ready for any unexpected physical exertion such as sudden lifting of children, chairs, or catching a public transportation vehicle. The elderly will accomplish this more securely and efficiently. Hence this is an advantage for the elderly to maintain their physical fitness for a longer period of time. It has been observed that those who fast and perform the Taraweeh prayers report feeling much convalescing and robust.
As human beings grow older, their physiological activity diminishes, as a result their bones become thinner and if not taken care of will suffer from osteoporosis (which causes the fractures of the bones when they fall in the elderly due to a loss of bone mineral content and consequent sponginess of the bones. The bone then becomes structurally unstable, brittle and susceptible to fractures). Primary osteoporosis is most common among postmenopausal (due to reduction in oestrogen) women or those who have undergone a bilateral oophorectomy (both the ovaries removed). Women are six times more likely than men to develop Type I osteoporosis. The three major prevention strategies of osteoporosis are a high dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D, regular exercise and oestrogen replacement in postmenopausal women. The skin also becomes fragile and crinkled. The repair processes of the body become slower and immune responses are decreased. In the elderly their physical activity is reduced as a result they have lower levels of Insulin Growth Factor 1. Reserve functions of all vital organs decrease and the elderly are more susceptible to mishaps and ailments. Because of repeated and regular movements of the body during Salat the muscle strength, tendon power, joint flexibility and the cardiovascular reserve are improved. Hence Salat and Taraweeh prayers enable the elderly to enrich the quality of life and to meet with unforeseen difficulties such as falls which could injure their bodies. Therefore Taraweeh prayers will improve their endurance, self-respect and self-confidence in being self-reliant.
Adrenaline is secreted even by minor activity. The secretion outlasts the incitement. Even after the Taraweeh prayers are over the effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline are manifest. (Adrenaline also called epinephrine is produced by the adrenal glands. The middle part of these glands, the adrenal medulla, secretes the hormone, which is chemically almost identical to the transmitter substance noradrenaline produced at the ends of sympathetic nerves. Adrenaline secretion into the bloodstream in stress causes acceleration of the heart, constriction of arterioles, and dilation of the pupils. In addition, adrenaline produces a marked increase in metabolic rate thus preparing the body for emergency.) Even the thought or the intention of performing the Taraweeh prayers is sufficient to activate the sympathetic nervous system. Sympathetic nervous system (thoraco-lumbar nervous system) is one of the two division of the autonomic nervous system, which supplies motor nerves to the smooth muscles of internal organs and to the heart muscle. Sympathetic nerve fibres arise via spinal nerves in the thoracic and lumbar regions. Their endings release mainly adrenaline, which increases heart rate and breathing rate, raises blood pressure, and slows digestive processes, thereby preparing the body for "fight or flight" and antagonising the effects of the sympathetic nervous system. The adrenaline would redistribute the blood in the body to the active muscles, would mobilise liver glycogen if necessary in order to provide glucose for the active tissues, would diminish fatigue in skeletal muscles and would facilitate alveolar ventilation relaxing bronchiolar muscle, and would initiate cardiovascular changes. Exercise induces a more effective functioning of beta-adrenoreceptors located on cell membranes.
The Taraweeh prayer is considered to be gentle exercise. The beneficial effects of gentle exercise on the body are many which are elaborated here.
Once muscles atrophy inspite of the availability of ample proteins. During the Salat and Taraweeh, every muscle in the body contracts isotnically and others isometrically. This gentle exercise also enhances endurance and diminishes tiredness. It helps the incapacitated to make the most of their remnant capabilities. The blood flow in strung muscle is low. During the prayers the blood flow is greatly increased to the muscles. Blood flow sometimes increases even before the start of Taraweeh prayers, with just the thought of performing the Taraweeh prayers. In addition to needing fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, the human body requires minerals such as Potassium for nerve and muscle activity. It is found in
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