Ramadan might now be feeling like it’s well and truly over, with next year’s not yet even on the horizon, but there’s no reason why fasting has to be just a once-a-year kind of topic. With so many benefits – mental, spiritual, and physical – there are many positive reasons to make fasting a year-round habit.
I find it funny how often non-Muslims react to my fasts with either sympathy or bewilderment, totally confused as to why I would ‘torture’ myself in such a way. Yes, it is tiring; yes, there are headaches, dry throats, and impatiently grumbling bellies. But when you’re experiencing that spiritual high, the inner peace, the increased sense of tranquility and patience, and above all, a heightened connection to our Maker, I’m more than happy to buy all that in exchange for feeling hungry for a little while.
Yet, what’s arguably even more amazing, is that while there are all these benefits we notice and experience, there is also a hidden network of miracles we’re not even consciously aware of, taking place within our busily fasting bodies. While we might slow down and take more time to rest on our fasting days, there is certainly no amount of resting taking place within our anatomy.
“Fasting is better for you, if only you knew” (Qur’an 2: 184)
Curated from a variety of sources, here is just a small list of physical benefits we gain through fasting:
Whatever we eat has to be processed by various organs in our body – stomach, liver, intestines, kidneys… along with the help of various hormones and transmitters. If you imagine your body like an office in-tray, with papers permanently adding up and adding up. You can work non-stop trying to clear that pile of documents, but until you experience a reduction, or a complete stop on papers coming in, you will never be able to catch up on clearing everything out. This is much like our bodies. Without ever going longer than a few hours without eating, our organs are constantly hard at work, clearing out, processing and passing on the nutrients and the waste from whatever we’re putting in. By fasting for an entire day, our body has an adequate period of time to fully clear out the build up of deposits we have fed our in-tray, and can therefore even clear out the toxins, the really overdue stuff, that have been left to build up like a layer of plaque, as there just hasn’t been time previously to sufficiently clear everything out.
This detox process can result in aches, pains and headaches, as levels of uric acid and cholesterol will be increasing in the bloodstream as a means of carrying away the toxic waste and eliminating them. The aches are worth it, as your organs will now be able to receive more oxygen, tissues will begin purifying themselves, blood vessels will soften, and our intestinal walls will begin letting go of mucoid plaque. As a result, calcification and inflammation will reduce or disappear, and the body will be more efficiently able to heal itself.
Improved Insulin Sensitivity
With the lack of food being deposited in our system, blood glucose levels begin to fall, which results in a decrease in insulin production. Our body is well-equipped to ensure that blood glucose levels don’t drop too far, as our body (and importantly, brain functioning) depend on this. However, while glucose levels are maintained, insulin levels continue to drop. This results in our cells becoming more sensitive to the effects of insulin, and reduces insulin resistance – a cause of diabetes.
Stronger Immune System
With the detoxification effects and realignment of hormones taking place within our body, organs and tissues are rebuilding themselves anew. This, in effect, is like a handy reset button on our whole system, giving us a fresh, strong, improved immune system. This has even been significantly proven with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, which is known to seriously jeopardise the body’s immunity.
A physical reaction, with emotional benefits as well; when fasting for a number of days, such as Ramadan, or the three white days of the month, the levels of endorphins released into the blood stream increases. This gives us a higher sense of alertness, and an overall feeling of mental wellbeing.
This is just a brief snapshot of the many many many benefits fasting can have on us. Everything Allah (SWT) has commanded as part of His perfect deen provides us with ways to take the best possible care of ourselves. If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to make up missed fasts from Ramadan, or want to do extra nafl (voluntary) fasts but can’t find the will-power, just think of the incredible ways fasting enables us to cleanse and refresh ourselves, inside and out. With many people, health enthusiasts and scientists – Muslim and non-Muslim – now catching on to the hidden beauty of this act, don’t allow yourself to miss out!