With the increasingly sedentary lifestyle brought about by advanced technology, the era of smartphones and doing everything at the touch of a button, it is now a more common sight to find increasing numbers of obese people. Fast food outlets and shopping malls spring up almost on a daily basis in cities across Nigeria and it is gradually becoming the norm to buy processed foods from shopping malls as against buying fresh produce from open markets as well as eating out from the numerous fast food outlets. Even in the open markets, processed foods and sugar-sweetened soft drinks are readily available.
The danger in this trend is increased consumption of processed foods laden with chemicals, additives, preservatives, colorants, refined carbohydrates, and high fructose corn syrups, all of which are toxic to the human body whilst giving low to zero nutrients. It is no wonder then the increase in cancer cases, diabetes, coronary heart diseases, and other inflammatory conditions. Particularly worrying is the increased number of calories consumed from our staple starch diet with little or zero exercising, leading to a thickening of the waistline (pot-belly) common not only in middle-aged men and women but also in much younger people these days.
Visceral fat (belly fat) is purported to be one of the most dangerous fats in the body as it surrounds major organs like the liver, pancreas, and kidney within the stomach. Visceral fat is considered toxic to the body because it is capable of provoking inflammatory pathways and signaling molecules that can interfere with the body’s normal hormonal function. Carrying around excess belly fat is linked to an increased risk for cancer, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and coronary heart disease. It is therefore recommended that the waist measurement should be no more than half of an individual’s height measurement or no more than 32inches for women and 37inches for men on the average to reduce the risk of visceral fat and its attendant health consequences. It is thus imperative that a healthy lifestyle consisting of portion controls, eating less processed foods and exercising be incorporated into our daily routine.
Exercise can be defined simply as physical activity. It is the physical exertion of the body, making the body do a physical activity which results in a healthier level of physical fitness and both physical and mental health. Exercise raises the heart rate, works and tones body muscles and help keeps fat, particularly visceral fat at bay.
The importance of exercise is thus noted and here Islam comes in as a complete way of life. Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur’an chapter 5 Verse 4
This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed my favor upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion
It is thus no surprise that Islam as a religion caters for both the spiritual, mental and physical health of man.
Salat is the second pillar of Islam and a very important aspect of religion. In the simplest definition, Salat means prayer. It is a way by which Muslims get close to their Creator and is enjoined on all Muslims as we deduce from the following verses
Recite that which has been given to you of the book and observe prayer. Surely, the prayer restrains one from indecency and manifest evil; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest virtue
(Qur’an chap 29 verse 46)
Verily Prayer is an obligation on the believers to be observed at its appointed times
(Qur’an chapter 4 verse 104)
There are five daily prayers in Islam each with their own specific timing; Fajr at sunrise, Zuhr at mid-day, Asr in the evening, Maghrib at sunset and Isha before nightfall. Supplementary (voluntary) prayers called nawafil are also encouraged particularly the voluntary prayer Tahjud observed at the latter part of the night as we read below;
Observe prayer from the declining and paling of the sun till the darkness of the night. And recite the Qur’an at dawn. Verily, the recitation of the Qur’an at dawn especially acceptable to Allah
(Qur’an chap 17 verse 79)
And during a part of the night, wake up for its recitation – a superogatory service for thee. It may be that thy Lord will raise thee to an exalted station
(Qur’an chap 17 verse 80)
Watch over the prayers, particularly the middle prayer. And stand before Allah submissively
(Qur’an chap 2 verse 239)
Each prayer has a certain number of repetitive units called rakaah with a total of seventeen(17) rakaahs prayed during the day comprising two rakaahs during Fajr, four during Zuhr, four during Asr, three during Maghrib and four during Isha prayers. In addition, varying numbers of supplementary rakaahs called Nawafil are voluntarily offered at the end of some of the compulsory prayers. The Holy Prophet(SAW) has said that such voluntary supplications help to make up for mistakes in the obligatory prayers. A particular voluntary prayer much favored by the Holy Prophet (SAW) is the Tahajud prayers comprising eight rakaahs and offered in the latter part of the night.
The health benefits of salat are immense starting with the particular acts of cleanliness observed in preparation for salat. The Wudhu (ablution) incorporates handwashing, a now familiar jingle on our airwaves following the outbreak of Ebola, Lassa fever and other deadly diseases. A popular disinfectant brand, Dettol also has one of its adverts hinged solely around the theme of handwashing. Is it not marvelous that this same health fact has been part and parcel of Islam all along? Also the other motions of Wudhu like mouth gargling, feet washing and the like similarly help maintain good hygiene while keeping diseases at bay.
During salat, most of the body muscles are exercised. The Qiyam (standing position) has been found to aid good posture and in the Rukuh (bowing posture), besides the limbs, the back and perineum muscles are exercised repeatedly together with the neck muscles. Rukuh exerts abdominal pressure thereby easing constipation and peristaltic movements while muscles of the lower back, thighs, and calves stretch, encouraging blood flow and circulation.
In Sajdah (prostration), the head is in a position lower position than the heart and therefore receives increased blood supply. This surge in blood supply has a positive effect on memory, concentration, psyche and other cognitive abilities.
Salat has also been found to share similarities with Yoga. For instance, the Qiyam is likened to the mountain pose in Yoga while the Rukuh is equated with the forward bend position in Yoga. Also, the resting position between the prostrations or for completion of the salat (the Qa’adah) is akin to the thunderbolt pose in Yoga. The health benefits of Yoga are well documented ranging from increased mental alertness and tranquility to improved cardiac and metabolic health as well as muscle strength and tone. All of these benefits, therefore, accrue to one who performs his salat regularly. For instance, one who takes his dinner before Isha prayer would find the fullness and lethargy associated with the heavy meal disappear after praying as the motions involved during salat help speed up metabolic activities of the gastrointestinal tract.
As a rule, dieticians and fitness experts encourage dinner should be taken before 7 pm to give the body time to digest all meals before going to bed. Nothing encourages belly fat and flab more than late night snacks or going to bed on a full stomach.
As Muslims we are lucky to have an activity (Isha) prayer that helps us speed up metabolism just before retiring to bed thus we should all endeavor to have dinner before Maghrib prayers or immediately after (during the Holy month of Ramadan) to aid digestion and prevent belly fat accumulation.
The importance of incorporating simple cardio exercises like jogging, skipping or floor exercises like plank and squats at least five times a week for half an hour are also not ruled out. In conclusion, we should all endeavor to observe our daily and voluntary prayers as they not only bring us closer to our Creator but also come with other moral, spiritual and physical benefits. May Allah(SWT) make it easy for us and accept all our acts of ibadah, Amin.
– By Barakat Giwa-Akinsiku
- Al Ghazal S.K(2006) Medical Miracles of the Qur’an. Leicestershire: The Islamic Foundation, Pp94-96
- Ayad A (2008) In: Healing body and soul Hakam J, Editor; Riyadh International IslamicPublisher House
- The Holy Qur’an