Can I exercise while fasting during Ramadan?

"Exercise is generally safe for everyone. Light to moderate intensity physical activities and exercises are safe and recommended for everyone. Keep active even when you are fasting. Do not stop exercising but have a realistic physical activity plan," advises Dr Fadzil Hamzah, Staff Physician from the Department of Sport and Exercise Medicine at Changi General Hospital (CGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

What is a 'realistic' physical activity plan for me? 

For a person who leads a sedentary lifestyle

Example: A housewife who does not engage in any form of exercise apart from house chores

A realistic aim for such a person would be to break the sedentary times at home as much as possible. To start low and go slow. It is perfectly fine to begin with light intensity physical activities but to keep moving around. Keep activities simple and incorporate movement into your daily routines.

You can do this by:

  • Doing your house chores, e.g. walking to the market instead of driving to buy groceries but making sure that you put on your mask, practise safe distancing and avoiding peak periods

  • Walking a longer route to avoid the crowd, taking the staircase instead of the lift, preparing food for the family, vacuuming and mopping the floor, and cleaning your bathroom etc. Keep the living environment clean and prepare early for the forthcoming Eid.

  • Even when watching TV, get off the couch during advertisements and move around the house, e.g. walk to the kitchen or bathroom. Pace around the house when talking on the phone with your relatives or friends.

  • Monitor your step counts, and aim to increase your total step count by another step more than the day before.

Your long term goal is to keep physically active and achieve at least 10,000 steps/day.

For a person who leads an active lifestyle

Example: An office worker who currently works from home (because of COVID-19) and has been running outdoors twice a week and (prior to COVID-19) was hitting the gym three times a week at moderate intensity

For such a person, working from home allows you more flexibility to utilise your time at home. Apart from doing house chores as stated in the examples above, you can still continue with your usual exercise routines.

  • Continue with your outdoor runs twice a week, but you do not need to increase the frequency (no. of times per week), intensity (running speed) and the duration of the runs. You may even vary the type of your outdoor cardiovascular exercises by cycling or brisk walking, and even stair-climbing instead of running.
  • Exercise outdoors in your immediate neighbourhood at your preferred times of the day to avoid fatigue and dehydration while fasting, and also avoid peak periods to steer clear of crowds. Wear your mask when not exercising or when you have stopped engaging in strenuous exercises, and observe safe distancing measures.
  • Now, although gyms are closed, you can still do body weight exercises, e.g. push ups, planks, body weight squats, dips, leg raises, etc at home. You can even utilise household items such as performing bicep curls using a bucket filled with water as weights or using a beach towel as a resistance band, to exercise three times week. There are many online resources that you may refer to for these indoor strengthening exercises.

The aim is to maintain your pre-fasting exercise routines, but not to make significant progress or break personal best records. Always listen to your body and modify the frequency, intensity, duration and the type of exercises accordingly.

Benefits of exercise

Exercising regularly has been shown to:

  1. Maintain and improve your cardio-respiratory fitness and capacity thus reducing the risks of complications from an acute respiratory infection
  2. Prevent and manage chronic medical problems like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, which are risk factors for COVID-19 infection and its complications
  3. Maintain and improve your immunity against all infections
  4. Maintain and improve muscular strength and endurance
  5. Prevent a physical decline in function due to prolonged rest and inactivity, especially in older adults, thus improving mobility and reducing the risk of falls
  6. Reduce fatigue and lethargy, thus allowing you to function better in school or at work
  7. Maintain and improve cognitive function thus allowing one to function better during home-based learning or at work
  8. Maintain and improve cognitive function, thus allowing one to think and plan better in the fasting state
  9. Manage stress and improve your mood especially during this challenging period

Read on to learn what is the recommended amount of exercise and how hard you should be exercising while fasting.

Ref: L20

Check out our other Ramadan articles:

Tips for Healthy Ramadan Fasting

Best foods to eat during Suhoor (pre-dawn meal)

Best foods to eat during Iftar (break fast)

Taking Medication During Ramadan

Tips for Safe Fasting When You Have Diabetes