Ramadhan, the holy fasting month for Muslims, is back to greet Muslims around the globe. For Indonesian Muslims, this Ramadhan paves the way to take a moment to breath a sign of relief after the country’s laborious presidential and legislative elections.
Not only is it a good time for reflection, this time of Ramadhan is instrumental in restoring our biological strength in the wake of an 11-month routine of life.
Having read assorted sources, despite its religious necessity, we can also understand the health benefits of fasting – physical, mental and social. First, fasting can reduce the risk of disease. According to Mehmet Cengiz Öz, known professionally as Dr. Oz, fasting is a healthy lifestyle. It detoxifies the body and constitutes a much more natural cycle rather than sticking to a certain diet. The detoxification process can occur because of the use of fat as the main source of energy during fasting. The poisons stored in fat will be released from the body when used as fuel.
In addition, a study conducted in Utah in 2008 showed that those who fast regularly have a lower risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease because the use of fat as the body’s main energy source can reduce cholesterol. Decreasing cholesterol can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 58 percent.
Second, fasting serves to aid weight loss. When fasting, the body does not receive any intake of food for more than 12 hours. The actual fasting phase starts when our digestive system is finished digesting all the nutrients contained in the digestive system. This process occurs about eight hours after the last meal has been eaten.
After the food has been digested, the body will begin to use the energy reserves contained in our organs. Under normal circumstances, the glucose reserves stored in the liver and muscles, in the form of glycogen, are our main energy sources. When fasting, glucose reserves will be used first as an energy source. After the glucose reserves in the liver and muscle are used up, then fat will be the source of energy for the body. With the use of fat as an energy source, the fat content in the body can decrease. A reduced fat percentage can help reduce your weight.
Third, fasting helps eliminate addiction. Fasting provides a motivation for our body to take a break from any poor eating habits you may have developed. This can help us reduce addiction to certain types of food such as sugar or coffee. For example, if you are accustomed to drinking coffee during the day, when you are fasting you are compelled not to drink coffee at all, so that when the fasting period is over you will be less likely to rely on it.
Likewise, with those who like to eat sweet snacks during the day, fasting can put these habits to an end. Therefore, the benefits of fasting for physical health usually come from the lack of consumption of caffeine and sugar contained in tempting, sugary foods.
Fourth, fasting may make us happier. You can fast because of religious obligations. Yet the social traditions that are associated with fasting can benefit you, creating a habit for you to gather and take sahur (pre-dawn meals) or break your fast together with family and relatives.
As quoted in NBC News, according to psychologist Susan Jones, anybody involved in activities and traditions during the fasting period can help families and relatives come closer to each other. This can help those who suffer from mental health conditions such as depression.
In addition, after fasting for several days, the benefits of fasting on mental health will also be more pronounced because the body will produce higher levels of endorphins than usual. This can help improve concentration or focus and make you feel better and happier mentally.
Fifth, fasting during Ramadhan makes us more humane and connected, resulting in healthy, social relations. Like it or not, we are becoming a more disconnected society. Everything that we want is available online. Answers to any pressing questions can be found by opening our smartphone. If we want to make real connections and cause real effects in the world, we must be connected. Typical worshipful practices during Ramadhan could help Muslims who observe fasting get socially connected. Organising ifthar (the evening meal for breaking the fast) with orphans in orphanages or poor people, for instance, is a small but powerful step to create an opportunity for human, and humane connection.
Fasting for Ramadhan connects and affects people. It is endowed with the power to make us care, which can be the seed of change and impetus for action. Fasting Muslims are obligated to meet and pay attention to the less fortunate in society. With that comes a heightened sense of awareness. On top of that, they will gain a much richer experience, treating those who have little or nothing as a part of their family.
Happy fasting and have a blessed Ramadhan!