• How to Move More in Less Time

    Moving is the best medicine. Our ancestors moved most of their waking hours, hence were free from the many of the civilizational diseases known to us today. With the onset of industrialisation, we reduced our movements significantly and thus increased our disease rates exponentially. With robust scientific studies, I want to help you move more in less time so that you can live an abundant life.

    Allah subuhanawuta’ala designed our body to be active and not to be sedentary. The biomechanics of our body is a proof for that. Our ancestors used to move around 450 minutes a day, that was roughly 7 hours a day. And we? We move less than 300 minutes a week (yes, a week, this is not a typo)! That’s less than what our ancestors did in a day!

    Most of us spend most of our waking hours sitting. We sit while working at a desk, we sit while driving our cars and finish off the day sitting on the sofa watching TV!

    And the repercussions of this kind of lifestyle are pretty clear! Tons of studies show that the more we sit, the greater our chances of dying of heart disease, stroke, cancer, or diabetes.

    In a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, the scientist calculated the cost of habitual inactivity. They say the lack of physical activity accounts for 22% of coronary heart disease, 22% of colon cancer, 18% of osteoporotic fractures, 12% of diabetes and hypertension, and 5% of breast cancer.

    This inactivity accounts for about 2.4% of U.S. healthcare expenditures or approximately $24 billion a year. On a global scale, this can be trillions of dollars!

    But that’s not all. Our physical inactivity increases the likelihood of becoming overweight or obese. We tend to get back and joint pain. And more importantly, sitting for an extended time saps our energy, decreases our productivity and makes us more tired than ever.

    So, spending most of our waking hours sitting or being sedentary is a disservice we do to ourselves, to our families and to the society we live in.

    Now, you may ask, what’s the solution? The solution is simple: move more. And I understand if you say you don’t have time to move more. My goal with this article is to help you do precisely that.

    Now, before we discuss how to move more in less time, let’s quickly define what movement is.

    Movement Defined

    For the sake of brevity and simplicity, I’ll define the movement like this:

    Movement is moving your whole body or part of your body in order to avoid being sedentary.

    So, according to this definition, a movement can be anything like walking, running, exercising, dancing, jumping, hanging, standing, cleaning your house, washing your dishes, playing with your children, stretching, tapping your legs, waving your hands, etc.

    In short, movement is anything but sitting or lying down.

    Moving is the Best Medicine

    Vilcabambans of Ecuador are some of the longest living folks in the world. And their secret? Walking! Listen to their mantra:

    “I have two doctors— my left leg and my right leg.”

    So, the first thing they do when they don’t feel well is to walk to see a friend.

    Moving is the best medicine, and I can list at least 100 reasons for it, but out of all of them, the following is the most profound reasons I know of: Your cell’s well-being is tied to movement! The more you move, the better they do. And if you wonder why you should take care of your cells, then you must know that you are a product of 15-70 trillion cells.

    In her absolutely fascinating book, Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, Joan Vernikos, Former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences (who was responsible for understanding how to improve the health and well-being of the NASA astronauts) describe this fact succinctly:

    “Telomeres, those little caps at the end of chromosomes that protect your DNA and allow healthy cell division, become shorter with age. They have therefore become a useful indicator of your state of health. Short telomeres have been linked to illness, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, shorter lifespan, and early death.

    The bad news is that research is now showing that people with a sedentary lifestyle also have shorter telomeres. As you might have guessed, physical activity helps you keep those telomeres longer, but only if it is moderate. More exercise is not better (i.e. exercising without recovering properly). People with high levels of physical activity had, in fact, shorter telomeres, just like those who sat too much. The message is clear: Be active, but don’t overdo it if you want to see those grandkids grow up.”

    Avoid Being “Active AND Sedentary”

    Most people I know can be divided into two groups:

    1. Group 1: No exercise at all. Spend most of the time sitting.
    2. Group 2: Do exercise 3-4 times a week (roughly 4-5 hours a week) and spend most of the remaining time sitting.

    Group 1 is clearly defined as sedentary. But how do you define group 2, who exercise a couple of times a week but spend an almost same number of hours sitting like the group 1?

    They are called active AND sedentary.

    And being active AND sedentary doesn’t serve you well over a long time. Research shows that exercising at the gym once a day does not counteract the effects of sitting for a significant part of the rest of the day.

    So, here is the takeaway lesson. While I encourage you to exercise at least four days a week, don’t just think that it’s enough. Hitting the gym once a day does not substitute for all-day spontaneous moving. And research shows that the body needs to be doing something all day long for a lean and healthy life.

    How to Incorporate More Movements

    Now, before you read further, can you think of a few ways through which you can incorporate a few more movements into your daily life?

    If you need help, here are a few ideas and how I implement them into my daily life:

    Use a height-adjustable standing desk 

    Height adjustable standing desks allow you to switch your position between standing and sitting. If you are desk worker, it’s a life-transformative piece of furniture. I’ve talked about its benefits in more detail in this article.

    I stand for 20 minutes and then sit for around 10 minutes.

    Setting the alarm to move every 30 minutes

    I usually set the alarm to move every 30 minutes. When the alarm goes off, I do one of these things:

    • 20-30 pushups
    • 10-12 burpees
    • Skip rope for a minute
    • 20 squats
    • 20 jumping jacks

    All it takes me is less than 1.5 minutes, but I’m super energised for another 30 minutes.

    If you can’t do any of these things, at least get up and walk a few meters from your desk, do some stretching and then sit back. It’s the prolonged sitting that is bad for you. You can avoid it by changing your posture every 30 minutes for a minute or two.

    Take the stairs

    Make walking up the stairs a fun game. I live on the fourth floor and I hardly ever take the lift. I make it a fun game to run on the stairs with my kids.

    Walking down the stairs is equally beneficial.

    Take a short walk

    Walking has a lot of benefits, but you don’t always need to walk for hours to reap those benefits. Even short, frequent walks count.

    Recent research shows that there are more benefits in walking a mile 3 times a day than walking all three miles at a time and then be sedentary for the rest of the day.

    Find OTMs

    OTMs? Yep, Opportunities to Move (Thanks, Michelle Seager, No Sweat).

    Regardless of your profession or life circumstances, you can always find new opportunities to move more.

    Here are few OTMs I’ve been practising lately:

    • While the kids play outside on the playground, I have the option to sit and watch or play with them. Doing some hanging, jumping and some pull-ups with kids is a new opportunity for me to move and get connected with my kids.
    • Shopping: Using a basket vs trolley. If I go shopping, I always like to carry a basket, rather than pushing the trolley. Carrying is again another OTM for me.

    Now, it’s your turn. I guess, now is the best time to brainstorm and define some of your new OTMs. Write them down and put them into action!

    Do the Chores

    Instead of watching TV, help your spouse/family with the house chores. You are not only getting rewards, you are also getting some quality movements to improve your health.

    Knowledge is Potential Power

    Knowledge isn’t power; it’s just potential power, i.e. the knowledge is only beneficial when it’s put into action.

    These ideas I’ve provided can transform the way you move from now onwards, as long as you put these things into practice.

    You’ll not only move more than ever, you’ll also feel more energetic and productive without spending significant time on your part.

  • Working out During Your Period? Here’s What You Need to Know

    Cramps, nausea, fatigue and bloating. While there might be many reasons to avoid working out during your period, this article will help you understand 1) why you don’t need to skip your workout during your period and 2) how working out during your period can help you achieve your fitness goals.

    Islam views menstruation as a natural process that normal, healthy women undergo for a certain time period every month.

    Although some religious activities and sexual intercourse are prohibited during this time, there are plenty of things that you can do. And one of those things is working out.

    “Working Out During Your Period? What?!”

    One of the most frequent questions I get asked from my female clients as well as many readers is “can I workout while on my period?

    This question is a result of misconceptions that have been passed down throughout time. The idea that exercising during menstruation is harmful is totally bogus. And I’m here to tell you, with the help of research, that not only should you be working out, but that exercising during your period can help you achieve your fitness goals! Nope, your period won’t set you back any longer!

    But before I discuss this, you’ve got to understand the basics of the menstrual cycle.

    Your Menstrual Cycle Explained

    First off, it’s important to note that your menstrual cycle can vary depending on many factors. Your cycle can range from anywhere between 21-35 days. However, an average cycle is around 28 days long and is broken down into two 14-day phases:

    1. Follicular phase – Day 1 through 14. During this time, the menstruation cycle begins on the first day of the follicular phase. After the period ends, on about day 12, the ovulation period starts (see the menstrual cycle wheel below for more information).
    2. Luteal phase – Day 15 through 28. This period is the period that follows the ovulation.

    As you can see from the wheel, once a month, the uterus grows a new, thickened lining that can hold a fertilised egg (Ovulation). When there is no fertilised egg to start a pregnancy, the uterus then sheds its lining. This shedding is the bleeding that occurs during your menses (at the end of the luteal phase and the beginning of the follicular phase).

    More About the Follicular Phase

    During the follicular stage, you tend to feel more energised. When the menstrual bleeding starts to taper (that is, around 5 days into your cycle), your oestrogen levels begin to rise; this increase in oestrogen makes you feel strong, social and energetic.

    What You Need to Know About the Luteal Phase

    During the luteal phase, Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) starts to emerge. As part of PMS, you may start to have cramps (or pain) in your abdomen, back, or legs. You might even experience headaches, nausea and dizziness. This is also the stage when you may feel tense, emotional, or even angry.

    You might also experience physical changes such as gaining water weight and feeling bloated. This is because high oestrogen and progesterone affect the hormones that regulate the fluid in your body. Most women also find it difficult to perform well during exercises in the luteal phase. It’s perhaps due to the less energy available at this time.

    But there is one good thing that happens in the luteal phase: you burn more calories during this time. That’s because your metabolism increases by up to 10%.

    Working Out During Your Period

    No one argues anymore about whether or not women should be working out during their periods. Instead, the discussion’s shifted to whether or not exercising during menses affects athletic performance. Regarding the second issue, a study conducted by the University of British Columbia suggests that there aren’t any significant changes in athletic performance. In fact, we know that many female athletes set world records in their domains while performing during their menses.

    In a study of 20 active females, researchers found that women who strength trained during their low-hormone phase made greater strength gains. So, what might seem like a setback can actually push you forward.

    Since most of my readers and clients aren’t athletes, my focus in this article is about the average Muslim woman who wants to know whether working out is beneficial during her period.

    And the answer seems to be a resounding “yes!”. Exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist Dr Stacy T. Sims explains in her ground-breaking book Roar:

    “Ironically, when these hormones drop and a woman starts her period, that is the time when she is actually “most like a guy” in terms of what is known in sport physiology and nutrition research: Pain tolerance is increased; time to fatigue is increased; she has a lower core temperature and greater plasma volume, so she can sweat more and stay cool longer, and from a metabolic state, a woman’s body can tap into more carbohydrate stores and recover faster, as compared to the high hormone phase that leads into her period.”

    The Type of Workouts You Should Be Doing

    Physically, there is no reason why you should skip any of your scheduled workouts during your menses. If you’ve been doing strength training, continue doing it. If you’ve been running, continue doing it too.

    You shouldn’t be worrying about the workout that you’re doing if you’re not an athlete (as I’ve mentioned before) and are doing a moderate amount of exercise during your period.

    Here’s what I mean by a moderate amount of exercise:

    • 1 hour of strength training a day for 5 days a week, and
    • 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercises a day

    Your Period Shouldn’t Stop You!

    That being said, having your period can be physically and emotionally taxing. If you really can’t or don’t want to do any workouts, try low-intensity workouts such as walking, swimming, or yoga. They’ll help you alleviate some of the physical and emotional issues you face during your period.

    Regardless of the intensity of your workout, make sure you hydrate yourself well before and after working out.

  • How to Hack Your Metabolism and Burn More Fat

    Metabolism has become a misunderstood catchphrase. While it’s true that your metabolism can impact your weight-loss goals, there’s more to it that needs to be addressed. In this article, you’ll discover the truth about metabolism and how you can hack it to burn more fat!

    If you were to ask people for some of the reasons why they can’t lose weight, some people would say it’s because they have a “slow metabolism.” They’d also tell you that increasing the “speed” of their metabolism would help them burn more calories and lose weight faster.

    But before I address these concerns, you need to know what metabolism is and how you can increase your metabolism so that you can burn more fat.

    What is Metabolism?

    Metabolism refers to the sum total of hundreds of biochemical reactions that are going on in your body. Put in simple terms, this means that metabolism is a collection of these diverse reactions.

    Based on this definition, any of the following scenarios can be referred as metabolic processes:

    • Your body converts food into energy
    • Your body releases hormones to regulate the body
    • You are moving your muscles to strengthen or tone your body

    In short, your metabolism is designed to keep you alive. So, it’s in the best interest of your metabolism to regulate the things that occur inside your body based on external information. Think of it as a thermostat: when it’s cold outside, the temperature rises inside your house and helps keep you warm. And your metabolism functions in a similar way.

    Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)

    To hack your metabolism, you’ve got to first understand what your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is.

    RMR refers to the number of calories your body burns during a 24-hour period in order to maintain your vital functions such as breathing, circulating blood, growing and repairing cells. Around 70% of the energy your body expends goes towards this! Yep, keeping us alive is hard work!

    But, it’s important to note that the percentage of RMR can differ from person to person. Some people’s bodies use up more calories to perform these basic metabolic processes compared to other people.

    Here are some factors that impact your metabolic rate:

    Age: If you don’t continue to workout, you’ll lose muscles as you age. As your muscle mass decreases, your body fat percentage increases. This then decreases your metabolic rate.

    Body size and composition: The more lean body mass you have, the higher the metabolic rate. So a muscular, lean person who is 90kg has a higher metabolic rate than a soft 90kg obese person.

    Gender: By default, men have more muscle mass than women. Hence, men have a higher metabolic rate than women.

    Extreme dieting: When you cut down your calories drastically to lose weight, your metabolic rate goes down. From the evolutionary perspective, your body presumes that you are going through a famine and it tries to do the same metabolic activities with fewer calories in order to keep you alive. So cutting calories drastically decreases your metabolic rate.

    Increasing Your Metabolic Efficiency

    Although we just went over the different factors that affect one’s metabolic rate, we see the recurring idea that muscle mass plays an important role in all these factors. The higher muscle mass you have, the higher the metabolic rate.

    So, if you want to burn more body fat by hacking your metabolic rate, then you need to seriously consider building more muscle mass, regardless of your age, gender and body size.

    And here are the three most important things you need to consider if you want to build more muscle mass that you’re lean and healthy:

    1. Eat more protein: Proteins are building blocks of your body. They build and repair your muscle tissues. So, there’s no way you can increase your lean muscle mass without sufficient protein.
    2. Lift weights: Make sure that you lift weights or do body weight exercises at least 3 times a week. Strength training should always be part of your workout routine.
    3. Ditch your chair and move around: Incorporate a lot of daily activities to your routine. Sit less and move more. Try walking up the stairs instead of taking an elevator, going for walk when you’d rather sit and watch a show on Netflix, or playing your kids (if you’re a parent).

    Strengthening Your Body = A Leaner, Healthier Body

    The key takeaway then is that yes, your weight loss goals are impacted by your metabolism. But you have the power to change your metabolism and thereby, change your life.

    If you’d like to discover the strategies that will help you get the body that you’ve always wanted, then sign up for my Online Coaching Program. I’ll not only help you get a fabulous and healthy body, but I’ll also use the Quran and Sunnah, science, and psychology to help you transform your life. It’s not just about your body; it’s about you!

  • How these Myths Can Sabotage Your Weight-loss Goals

    When it comes to health and fitness, there is an abundance of myths out there. These myths are not only confusing but can also sabotage your fitness goals. So in today’s article, I would like to debunk the four most popular fitness myths so that you can act based on scientific facts to achieve your weight-loss goals.

    As a nutrition and fitness coach, I am asked many questions. And some of these questions deal with popular myths. I sincerely hope this article will shed some light and help you to differentiate between myths and facts.

    Myth #1 – 30 minutes of walking for 3 times every week helps to improve overall health

    We are repeatedly told that merely walking for 30 minutes, 3 times a week is all we need to improve our health. This amount of activity neither improves your health nor your body composition.

    Emerging research from the exercise world gives us a different number. So, if you are truly interested in improving your health, you should shoot for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise every day. And if you want to lose weight and improve your body composition, you need roughly around 60 minutes of exercise most of the days.

    Having said that, the type of exercise you choose to do has a big impact on your results. For instance, the benefits you reap from a 10-minutes high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is almost equal to 100 minutes of walking. So if you want to improve your health and body composition, you need to incorporate more HIIT and strength workouts to your workout routine.

    Now, if you are wondering how you are going to find 30-60 minutes a day, then it’s important I debunk the second myth.

    Myth #2: Exercise at least 30 minutes in one go to get a health benefit

    This myth is one of the main reasons why many people abandon exercise altogether. They think they don’t have time to do 30 minutes in one go and hence abandon exercise altogether. If you don’t have time to complete all your workouts in one go, you can split it into three 10-minutes sessions and reap the same or even more benefits from your workouts.

    And if walking is the only exercise you do, you can split your walking sessions too. Recent research from the University of Otago, New Zealand suggest that a mere 10 minutes short, vigorous walk after each meal (three times a day) may be even more beneficial than just a 30 minutes stroll.

    While 30 minutes of exercise a day may be enough to keep up your general health, you’ll still need to get more moderate to vigorous exercise most days of the week if you’re trying to lose weight.

    Myth #3: Aerobic exercise is the best for fat loss

    What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I talk about exercise? Most probably, a picture of someone jogging!

    Jogging is a great aerobic exercise that has many therapeutic and health benefits. However, jogging (or any other aerobic activities) isn’t the best kind of exercise for fat loss. Perhaps you need to understand energy expenditure and afterburn effect in order to comprehend this statement fully.

    From breathing to sleeping, all your activities require energy. When you exercise, this energy requirement goes up, and your body burns your fat to provide energy for the cells. Thereby making exercise an excellent way to shed some weight.

    Did you know that your body continues to burn calories even after you stop working out? In scientific terminology, we call this EPOC, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which is commonly known as “afterburn effect”.

    You burn a higher % of fat per minute during an aerobic activity. However, the afterburn effect of traditional aerobic activities is minimal.

    However, if you do the same aerobic exercise (e.g. Jogging) in a vigorous form (e.g. Sprinting) your afterburn effect is high, i.e., your body will continue to burn more calories even after you stop exercising.

    So, if you want to lose weight, the best exercise for you isn’t the one that burns calories only during an activity (such as aerobic exercise), but also after you stop that activity, i.e., an activity that has a high afterburn effect. HIIT and strength exercises have a high afterburn effect.

    That’s why the “best” exercise for fat loss is a combination of strength training, high-intensity interval exercise, and a moderate amount of aerobic exercise.

    Myth #4: Strength exercises make women bulky

    One of the most frequent questions I get from my female clients is this:

    “Don’t I become bulky, if I do strength exercise?”

    The fact is, women won’t bulk up by lifting weights or doing any other strength exercises. They are less physiologically prone to bulking up because they have less muscle tissue and produce lower levels of testosterone hormones than men. Testosterone is a primary hormonal driver of muscle growth.

  • Interval Walking: How To Gain More in Less Time

    Walking is the best medicine! It’s not only convenient; it’s also comfortable to do for most people. In this article, I’m presenting a short and simple interval walking protocol so that you can do it regardless of your location or schedule!

    You’ve probably heard about the latest buzzword HIIT (pronounced “hit”). HIIT- High-Intensity Interval Training – involves a set of short high-intensity bursts separated by periods of low-intensity recovery time.

    In recent years, this type of exercise has been gaining ground, and more and more studies testify to the benefits of doing interval training for general health and weight loss.

    Health Benefits of HIIT

    One of the biggest advantages of HIIT is that it provides most benefit from exercise in the least amount of time.

    The health benefits you can achieve with HIIT are pretty remarkable. You certainly get more bang for your bucks! Here are some important health benefits of HIIT:

    • Improves your blood glucose level
    • Supercharges your fat-burning
    • Boosts your metabolism
    • Improves your cardiovascular fitness

    However, HIIT isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t already exercising and in a decent shape, you may find it difficult to stick to such  training method.

    So, if you aren’t into exercise, at least harness the power of interval walking to improve your health.

    Enter into Interval Walking

    If you are a newbie to HIIT or to exercise in general, I would strongly suggest you starting with the following “interval walking” protocol. It’s easy, but its benefits are amazing.

    Dr Gibala, who is world’s foremost authority on HIIT mentions in his ground-breaking book “The One Minute Workout” about the research related to interval walking.

    He says, “compared with walking at a steady pace, the interval-based routine has been shown to result in much larger improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness (an incredible 25% increase) and much larger decreases in blood pressure (6% reduction in systolic blood pressure) for those who are out of shape.

    Incredible huh? So without further ado, here is how you can practice interval walking.

    Total time investment: 26 minutes

    How often: You may do this every day or at least four times a week

    1. Warm up by walking for 2 minutes
    2. After your warm up, walk as fast as you can without jogging for the next 3 minutes. You should be breathing deeply and be able to maintain a conversation with some difficulty (High-Intensity)
    3. For the next 3 minutes, decrease your intensity and walk at a leisurely pace (Low-Intensity)
    4. Repeat steps 2 to 3 for at least four times

    Interval Timer App

    It’s advisable to install an interval timer app to do this interval walking. An app helps you track the minutes correctly.

    Just Google “interval timer app” and you’ll come across countless free and paid apps.

    These two are my favourite interval timer apps:

  • How to Strengthen Your Core With Plank Exercises

    Chiselled abs and a flat belly aren’t just achieved with complicated workouts at the gym; you can also get a strong core with simple exercises. This article shows you how you can strengthen your core with plank exercises.

    When I was overweight, I used to have a bulging tummy. It used to bug me for a long time. But it started to become a real issue when I heard the following story from the life of Umar (RA):

    One day, a man with a big belly came to Umar bin Al-Khattab (RA). Umar, being who he is, asked the man about his belly, “What is this?”.

    The man proudly replied, “It’s a blessing from Allah!”.

    Umar said, “No, indeed, it’s a punishment from Allah!”1

    This story sounds simple, but it’s not. The man’s belly isn’t a sign of wealth like he thinks it is. It’s an indication of his lifestyle: extravagant and careless. His belly shows that he not only doesn’t care about others, but also about himself.

    Needless to say, this story had a big impact on me. I started working hard to get rid of my tummy. I also started to pray to Allah for forgiveness. I truly felt that it was kind of a punishment from Allah (SWT).

    Besides the spiritual and cosmetic reasons to getting rid of belly fat, visceral fat is the most dangerous type of fat. It’s the underlining cause of many types of diseases.

    So, I’d like to share with you how planks helped me lose my belly fat.

    But before I begin, I need to make a big disclaimer. No single exercise can simply turn your tummy into a flat one. Along with nutrition and lifestyle changes, you need to have a regular exercise regimen. But what adding the plank to your daily routine will do is have an impact, not just on your tummy, but also on your overall physique.

    What’s a Plank and Why Is It Effective?

    A plank is a simple and easy bodyweight exercise; anyone can do it. So regardless of your age, gender or location, you can start doing this exercise every day.

    They’re also some of the most effective exercises you can do to improve your core muscle groups. And research shows that abdominal muscles are better trained with integrated core exercises such as planks than with popular isolation exercises like sit-ups and crunches.

    Definition of Core Muscles

    Many people believe that the core muscle group comprises of just the four, six, or eight muscles that are visible in the stomach region. But your core includes the abdominals, lower back and hip muscles as well!

    Unlike sit-ups and crunches, planks not only improve your core, but they also improve your performance, posture and flexibility.

    4 Remarkable Benefits of Plank Exercises

    Here are four remarkable reasons to add planks to your daily workout regimen.

    #1. Planks strengthen your core

    The standard plank is one of the few workouts that engages all your major core muscle groups. When you do a plank, you’re in fact training a whole lot of major muscle groups, such as:

    • Neck
    • Shoulders
    • Biceps
    • Chest
    • Abs
    • Lower back
    • Gluts
    • Thighs, and
    • Calves

    So, working out those muscles groups regularly leads to a strong core. And a strong core translates to a toned belly.

    #2. Planks reduce back pain

    The modern day working environment is a key cause of back pain. Most office workers sit all day long and with a bad posture. And this, of course, is a recipe for lower-back pain.

    Apart from your regular workout plan, you need to include core-strengthening exercises like planks to reduce back pain.

    They almost magically reduce lower back pain because upper and lower back muscles are also trained when you engage in planks.

    #3. Planks improve your posture

    Another aspect that ties in with back pain is, as I’ve mentioned, posture. A visible result of your strengthened core is better posture. In fact, you can identify a person’s core strength just by looking at his or her posture.

    Improved posture also benefits you in your day-to-day life because you’ll find it easier to sit or stand straighter.

    And the benefit of improved posture doesn’t end there. There are many studies that confirm that your body posture even impacts your memory, mood and confidence! 12

    #4. Planks improve your flexibility

    Since planks train and stretch a lot of major muscle groups, you’re also improving your flexibility.

    As you become more flexible, you’ll also have better coordination and body movements. Your body won’t feel as stiff, and you’ll feel more comfortable.

    How to Do a Standard Plank

    There are tons of different planks, but the focus of this article is the standard plank. Please see the video below. It provides an in-depth illustration of a plank. If you’re a beginner, follow the recommended repetition as explained in the video.

    Measure Your Core Strength

    The plank exercise is an easy way to measure your core strength. If you can hold the plank position for at least three minutes without allowing your hips to raise or dip, it means your core strength is excellent.

    If you can’t even hold it for two minutes, it’s an indication that you may carry too much weight around your waist and that it’s time to get rid of your excess body fat.

    1 Mu’jum ash-Shuyookh of as-Subki, vol. 1, p. 531

  • 4 Amazing Mental Health Benefits of Exercise You Should Know

    Working out has great physical benefits. It helps with weight loss, burning calories, and getting fit. But working out also has some amazing mental health benefits. This article will help you discover 4 reasons to workout with your mental health in mind.

    Weight loss, burning calories and getting fit. These are all great reasons to work out. And it’s mostly like what we think of whenever the word exercise is mentioned.

    These are some great reasons to work out, but while they’re important, they’re not the only reasons you should be exercising. That’s because there are some amazing mental health benefits to working out that may even outweigh the physical benefits.

    In a previous article, I discussed the four super important benefits of exercising. The focus of that article was on morning workouts.  Instead of the timing of your workouts, this article is going to specifically focus on the mental health benefits of exercising.

    #1. Exercise reduces depression and anxiety disorders

    For a very long, I was under the impression that Muslims are less prone to depression and anxiety related issues. I couldn’t understand how someone who had a strong connection to Allah subuhanawuta’ala could experience anxiety and depression.

    As soon as I got out of my bubble, I realised that Muslims can also suffer from these issues.  Don’t get me wrong—whenever we feel depression and anxiety, we should reflect on our relationship with Allah. And there’s no better way to strengthening this connection than by practising our religion.

    But at the same time, we also need to accept that this isn’t the sole cause of these issues. Muslims, like everyone else, have personal, family, and psychological issues that may lead to mental health diseases.

    So, although it’s essential that we first and foremost turn to our Creator for all our difficulties, we do, however, need to take action to eliminate these mental health disorders. Trust in Allah, but tie your camel first.

    One of the best ways to alleviate these disorders is by working out. Countless of studies1 2 have found that working out helps with

    • Mood
    • Stress levels, and
    • Concentration

    Think of working out as a free therapy that all of us can take immediate advantage of.

    #2. Exercise boosts brain power

    Along with these psychological effects, Dr John Medina, in his outstanding book Brain Rules, lists 12 simple, but powerful rules to get the best out of your brain. Implementing these rules in your life will, inshaAllah, improve your brain power so that you learn, think and act better!

    The very first rule he starts with is exercise. Using scientific evidence, he demonstrates how exercise can boost brain power and improve cognitive functions.

    He says, “Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluid intelligence tasks.”

    In an interesting study in the University of Dublin, Ireland, scientists found that students who work out regularly had a better memory than students who didn’t work out. So, if you are a student or if you just want a great memory (like most of us), I don’t know of a better way to boost your brain than by working out.

    Still need another reason to work out? The number 1 factor that predicts how well you will age (mentally and physically) depends pretty much on if you workout on a regular basis.3

    #3. Exercise improves your energy levels and productivity

    If you are a runner or if you’re a regular at the gym, then you know what I’m talking about. After your workout, you feel like you can move a mountain and like you’re at the top of the world. That’s because not only is your energy level increased, but your mental clarity and alertness are substantially increased too.

    Improving both your mental and physical energy levels means that you’re able to be more productive and focused throughout your day. For example, researchers found that participants of a study they conducted who worked out reported fewer feelings of fatigue when they engaged in physical activities.

    #4. Exercise helps control your cravings

    If you have ever tried to lose weight, you know how hard it is to fight food cravings. Though there isn’t a shortcut for this problem, exercise can help you reduce those cravings.

    In another case study, researchers found that high-intensity exercises may curb hunger pangs and decrease food cravings. This study also suggested that exercise decreases calorie intake compared to “mental-work.” That’s because exercise decreases our calorie intake, whereas “mental-work,” work that requires a lot of brainpower, increases our desire for food.

    So, if you are really craving some food while doing mental-work, do this:

    1. Do 20 pushups
    2. Rest for 10 seconds
    3. Do 20 squats,
    4. Rest for 10 seconds
    5. Repeat this 3 times!

    Trust me; you’ll notice a difference, insha Allah!

    3 Churchill, J.D., et al. “Exercise, Experience and the Aging Brain.” Neurobiol Aging 23 (2002): 941-55.

  • When is the Best Time to Workout?

    Exercise is incredibly beneficial, not just for your body but also for your mind. If you would like to increase these benefits by at least 10x, then you need to workout at the right time of the day. Sounds cool, right?  

    I was among those who workout late in the evening. I thought that the timing wouldn’t play a big role in achieving my lean and healthy body.

    But I was totally wrong. My views changed when I stumbled upon 100s of research studies that discussed the benefits of working out in the morning. This is because doing your workouts first thing in the morning has life-changing benefits. For example, the time you choose to do your workouts impacts your sleep, mood, learning ability and even appetite.

    I’ve been enjoying these benefits and I want you to enjoy them too.

    Here are the 4 major scientific reasons to workout in the morning:

    Morning workouts help you sleep better

    It goes without saying that sleep is necessary for a healthy mind and body. Getting a good sleep isn’t just an option, rather it’s an obligation we have towards our body.

    Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “…your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you…” (Sahih Buhary).

    So how can you get the sleep that you need? Latest research suggests that morning workouts help us sleep better. A study conducted by the Appalachian State University found that working out in the morning is ideal if you want to get the best sleep at night. Researches tracked the sleep patterns of participants who worked out at a three different times: 7am, 1pm or 7pm.

    The results of this study were astounding: morning exercisers slept longer and they spent 75% more time in the reparative deep sleep cycle than the other two groups.

    What this means is that getting a longer deep sleep cycle is more important for your health than the total time of your sleep. And the increase in the deep sleep leads to a better body and a longer life, bi’idnillah!

    Morning workouts improve your learning ability

    In the outstanding book Spark: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain, Dr. John Ratey describes how physical activity sparks biological changes in the brain. Based on neuroscientists’ discoveries, he argues, “Exercise provides an environment in which the brain is ready, willing and able to learn.” He also cites interesting research that was done in a high school in the United States. This particular high school wanted to find out whether the morning workout before school would give their students a boost in reading ability and in other subjects.

    The results were outstanding. Kids who worked out in the morning showed a staggering 17% improvement in reading and comprehension. Did you say, “wow”?

    There is no better brain enhancement drug than exercise!

    Morning workouts improve your mood

    We know smiling is a beautiful sunnah. And to perform this sunnah from our hearts, we certainly need to be in a good mood.

    Here is the thing, physical activity as one of the first things you do in the morning helps you to improve your mood and focus. It also helps improve your self-esteem, motivation and attention to details. Those are quite a lot of benefits that come from simply changing the timing of your workout!

    And what an excellent way to start your day, right?

    Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine influence a host of things in our mind and, in particular, they regulate our mood, anger, aggressiveness, attention and even our satisfaction. Exercise elevates these neurotransmitters and helps us along the way to improve our mood.

    Morning workouts help to buffer the daily stress

    Stress is bad for us and we know it. As much as we want to avoid stress, we have, at times, no control over it. Though we may never be able to avoid stress in our lives, we can shield ourselves from the harmful effects of stress.

    That shield is called exercise (and of course the remembrance of Allah, but that’s a separate topic for another day, insha Allah)

    Many studies have shown that people who exercise are less prone to stress-related disorders. This is because exercise helps to buffer the effects of everyday stressors.

    The implication of exercise goes beyond stress. The research lead says, “If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events.”

    Perhaps the biggest benefit of all, a morning sweat session ensures that your workout is checked off first thing each day. I mean, how many times have you had the honest intention to work out in the evening, only to have to work late, be distracted by something else or just way too exhausted to move.

    So, what positive steps are you going to take to work out in the morning?

  • 4 Remarkable Reasons to Ditch Your Chair

    “Sitting is the new smoking”, they say!  The latest research suggests that employees who spend their days sitting behind a desk are more likely to gain weight and inflict permanent damages to their bodies. If there is one thing you can change in your life that would immediately improve your health, it’s this: Sit less! The health issues that surround sitting for too long is almost as bad as smoking, if not worse.

    Having a good health is one of the key factors for leading a successful, productive life. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “Whosoever begins the day feeling family security and good health and possessing provision for his day is as though he possessed the whole world.” [al-Tirmidhi]

    In a recent collection of data from 41 research studies on sedentary time, researchers found a 91% increase in Type 2 diabetes when comparing the ‘most active’ individuals with the least. Another research conducted in 2013 found that people who are sitting for four hours or more each day are at a significantly higher risk of developing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease than those who sit less during the day.

    As true believers, these research studies should concern us for following two reasons.

    1. Our bodies are entrusted to us by Allah for a brief time and taking care of our body is, therefore, part of our religion.
    2. As Muslims, we are required and encouraged to be proactive. Since we are aware that prolonged sitting harms our body, we should work on protecting ourselves from the harmful consequences of this habit.

    Now if you resolve yourself to go to a gym after work to undo the damage of excess sitting, that doesn’t work either. Research studies concluded that a counteraction does not completely undo the bad effects of prolonged sitting. In other words, sitting down for 8 hours at work and then heading to the gym is not going to offset your excess sitting.

    So, what’s the solution? I hear you ask…

    Stand more and sit less. Yes, it’s as simple as that. Find ways and opportunities to stand whenever and wherever possible. Standing more helps you in multiple ways:

    1. Standing burns more calories and thus ultimately helps you to lose your unwanted body fat. A person burns at least 50 calories more in an hour than when sitting. As a result, four hours of standing a day alone helps you burn a whopping 200 calories a day, which translates into 6000 calories burned a month or around a kg (2.2 lb) of body fat.
    2. Standing boosts your metabolism. When we sit down for a prolonged period, our largest muscle group in our body becomes static and thus don’t process glucose and fats efficiently. This leads to problems with blood sugar, increased triglycerides, and higher LDL (bad) cholesterol. All these pave the way towards diabetes, obesity, and heart-related issues.
    3. Standing improves your cognitive functions. A recent study conducted by the Texas A&M Health Science Centre School of Public Health indicates that students who worked while standing most of the time were able to manage their time effectively, memorize facts easily, understand what they read better, solve multi-step problems, and organize their thoughts in writing better than those who worked sitting.
    4. Standing improves your mood and vitality. In a seven-week study, researchers in Minneapolis, USA wanted to test whether using a standing desk improves employees’ health. They found out that standing employees reported being more energetic, happier, and having a better mood and that upper back and neck pain was reduced by 54%. These results reverted back to the baseline once the employees returned to sitting.

    So standing or being active throughout the day is great for your waistline and general health. As Muslims, we know that health should be our utmost priority after imaan. Our beloved Prophet Muhammed ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

    “Ask Allah for forgiveness and health, for after being granted certainty, one is given nothing better than health.” (Related in Tirmidhi)

    And he ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam didn’t stop there; he even encouraged us by praising health promoting physical activities.

    In an authentic hadith, which is narrated in At-Tabarani, the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “Any action which is void of the remembrance of Allah is either a distraction or heedlessness except for four actions: Walking from target to target, i.e. during archery practice, training a horse, playing with one’s family, and learning to swim.” What is most amazing is, almost all of what the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam mentioned here are physical activities that promote one’s physical strength and overall health.

    So stand or move as much as possible with the intention of taking care of your body, as surely you’ll be rewarded for that action, bi’idnillah!

    In the next part of this article, I leave you with four simple strategies that will help you stand more. These are tested out strategies that are easy and could be implemented immediately.

    1. Get a standing desk. If you are self-employed, this may be the best investment you could do for your health. If you are an employee, feel free to discuss this with your boss. Most companies are very accommodative to this new trend. Here is an incredible website that shows some DIY ideas to create your own standing desk for less than $50.
    2. Decide on some trigger scenarios for you to stand up. Are you on the phone? Stand up. Reciting Quran or reading a book? Stand up! Making your morning and evening adhkar? Stand! By deciding some trigger scenarios in advance, it becomes easier for you to stand up when those scenarios occur.
    3. For example, a trigger scenario could be saying: “If my phone rings (or replace this with any other trigger scenario), I will stand up”. While saying this sentence to yourself, visualise this scenario in your mind for a few seconds and insha Allah with some practice, you will automatically stand up when your phone rings.
    4. Let others know that you prefer standing. Whether you are in a meeting or listening to a lecture, you always have the option to stand. You just need to let others know, that you prefer standing while listening to them. Usually, no one would object to your preference.
    5. Do a 5-minute physical activity every 60 minutes. Australian researchers wanted to find out a viable solution for diminishing the damage of chronic sitting. There were three sets of groups in their research:

    a.     The prolonged sitting group, who sat for almost 9 hours a day with some small bathroom and coffee breaks

    b.     Prolonged sitting group (8.5 hours) with a 30-minute physical activity a day

    c.      Regular activity breaks group, who walked the treadmill for 1 minute 40 seconds every 30 minutes for a total of 18 very small breaks over 9 hours.

    The regular activity breaks (Group C) were more effective at lowering blood glucose and insulin than a one-time 30 minutes’ physical activity as in Group B.

    In other words, you are better off taking small but frequent physical activities throughout the day rather than sitting the whole day and doing a 30-minute physical activity at the end of the day.

    Putting this into practice, I usually skip rope or do a few push-ups or squats after every 60 minutes. This regime doesn’t replace my three times a week strength workouts. If this is difficult for you to implement, I would suggest taking a brisk walk around the block for 3 to 5 minutes every hour.

    (I’ve first published this article in Productivemuslim.com and republishing it again on my own site due to popular demand)