The benefits of developing a life-long commitment to physical activity are too numerous to elucidate here fully. However, the positive effects of exercise include lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes, elevated mood, prevention of obesity and better weight management and increase in bone density to name a few.
However, during my research, it became clear that most Muslim women do not exercise due to the following reasons:
- Not sure of the benefits of exercise
- Negative reaction of family, especially spouse
- Exercise assumed to be a Western phenomenon and therefore did not want to participate
- Gymnasia regarded as un-Islamic due to mingling of men and women
- Hijab and abaya not conducive to exercising outdoors
- Perceived or real negative reaction of public when exercising outdoors
- Music in gymnasia and in exercise-videos (like Zumba) seen as un-Islamic
- Some actions in Yoga (like ‘Surya Namaskar’ or ‘salutation to sun-god’) regarded as unacceptable
- Time commitment to exercise too great
- Family responsibilities, especially care of the young and the elderly
- Do not know how to start or what to do
The women who did exercise found the following enabled their physical activity:
- Awareness of the benefits of exercise
- Spouse was supportive of increasing physical activity
- Exercise regarded as essential for men and women from within an Islamic framework
- Use of gymnasia and swimming pools at women-only times or joining women-only facilities
- Use of hijab rather than niqab when exercising outdoors reduced negative reactions
- Participated with whole family in physical activity, such as walking together, playing team sport and learning a new sport
- Included children and elderly in physical activity or found someone to care for them at set times daily
The recommendation for exercise for individuals who have no contra-indicating factors is 30-90 minutes a day depending on the type of exercise they undertake and their fitness level.
Types of exercise may include walking, running, swimming, cycling, lifting weights, yoga and stretching. However, we tend to overlook that everyday activities may also count toward your daily exercise. These are, using the stairs at home and at work, lifting children, kicking a ball in the yard, jumping on a trampoline and gardening (digging, bending, lifting).
For the sisters who would like to work out in a gym-like setting but do not want to spend the time or money to join a gym or do not think it is appropriate for them, here are a few simple ways in which you can set up your own equipment in the privacy of your own home.
- First figure out what type of activity you enjoy. If you like walking, the biggest investment should be a treadmill. If you like cycling, then invest in a stationary bike
- A home gym should have at least one cardio machine such as an elliptical, treadmill, stationary bike or stair climber
- Do your research. Visit several shops or online stores and compare prices, features, models. Pay attention to details such as what does the display screen show? Is there a bottle holder? Are there different programs giving different activity levels? Does the treadmill fold away?
- Do not overlook the importance of lifting weights for weight management, increasing metabolism, increasing muscle tissue and bone density. Adults of all ages should lift weights 2-3 times a week
- Invest in a set of dumb bells or if possible, a weights machine. A basic weights machine from a reputable sporting goods store should start at about $250 including the 220 lb. weights which should be sufficient for working out all major muscle groups safely. Get the machine installed if possible as setting it up yourself can be arduous!
- Before buying, make sure you have a chance to use the machine’s display model at the store. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Salespeople are usually familiar with the features of the machines and are very helpful. Try to get home delivery and installation if you are not sure about how to safely set up the machine. Ask if it comes with a service plan
- Remember to stretch those muscles after each workout
- You will be sore and tired for the first two weeks, but do not give up. You will enjoy your exercise routine and your family will enjoy having a more energetic, happier you around!
Disclaimer: Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Consider getting a blood test to check glucose levels, thyroid activity, hemoglobin count and anything else your doctor recommends. Start with 10-15 minutes a day and build up to your recommended activity level. Stay hydrated, and stop immediately if you feel abnormal discomfort.