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  • Why Coronavirus Pandemic is a Blessing For Believers

    We are in the midst of a dangerous pandemic. In my lifetime, I don’t know of any other situation that has forced the closure of places of worship, schools, workplaces and entire countries. Billions of people’s lives have been affected, and an unprecedented number of people are forced to stay in their homes due to lockdowns. 

    This is certainly a great test for humanity. As Allah subuhanawuta’la says in the Quran: 

    And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” (Al-Baqarah, 155)

    Is this test a punishment or a blessing for us?

    When Aisha Radi Allahu Anha asked the Messenger of Allah (SAW) about something similar, Prophet (SAW) said: 

    It (plague) is a punishment that Allah sends upon whomever he wills, but a mercy for the believers. Any servant who resides in a land afflicted by plague, 

    • remaining patient and hoping for a reward from Allah, 
    • knowing that nothing will befall him, but what Allah has decreed, 
    • he will be given the reward of a martyr.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari) 

    So a test can be a punishment or blessing depending on how you respond to it. If that test brings you closer to Allah and makes you a better person, then it is certainly a blessing for you. On the contrary, if your relationship with Allah is getting worse, then it becomes a punishment for you. 

    How do you ensure that these tests and difficulties are your blessings, not a punishment? 

    Utilise them to come closer to Allah subuhanawuta’la. In my humble opinion, the difficulty we are currently facing is undoubtedly a blessing for us in many ways, Alhamdulillah. I’m also confident that this pandemic will change the world permanently in many positive ways. There is an interesting article in Politico that summarises this succinctly. 

    In today’s article, my goal is to show you how you can turn this calamity into a blessing.  

    WELL Framework 


    In Bestversions.me I teach Muslims to become the best version of themselves and provide them with a framework called WELL. WELL stands for Worship, Energy, Love and Legacy. 

    I would like to use the same framework to show you how you can turn this calamity into a blessing. 

    Allah subuhanawuta’la teaches us what our true priorities are through these calamities. Those who learned the lessons know that 

    • coming closer to Allah, 
    • taking care of one’s health, 
    • spending time for the family and 
    • creating a legacy by being beneficial to others are some of our top priorities. 

    And WELL embodies all these priorities. 

    When thinking about becoming a better version, there are so many areas to consider. With WELL framework, I provide a simple but powerful structure to catapult you towards your best version, bi’idnillah. If you are interested in getting to know more about it, please check it here: bestversions.me 

    Worship

    Such tests are ways for believers to come closer to Allah subuhanawuta’la. It’s out of His immense love, He gives us opportunities to draw closer to Him.

    What is more beneficial to a believer than to come even a “millimetre” closer to his Creator? 

    So use this opportunity and do take stock of your current reality. 

    • How is your relationship with Allah subuhanawuta’la
    • What bad deeds are you going to abandon? (some suggestions: not being dutiful to one’s parents, backbiting, looking at haram things etc.) 
    • What good deeds are you going to increase? (some tips: increase Sunnah prayers, recite more of the Quran, helping others and expecting only Allah’s reward etc.) 
    • What is the one thing that you are doing consistently, even if it is tiny, to draw closer to your Lord? 

    Decide and commit to making a difference in your relationship with Allah subuhanawuta’la. Don’t worry about how small the change is, it’s about being consistent. 

    It is a well known fact that Allah loves consistency as the famous hadith states ‘the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little’ (Sahih Al-Bukhari). 

    Energy

    This pandemic is a reminder for us to take care of our well-being too. 

    When I went shopping last time, I noticed all the vitamin supplements aisle was literally empty. All of a sudden, people understood that taking care of their well-being is an important thing. (Though I don’t think taking some vitamins supplement is the best way to improve your health 🙂 ) 

    People who take care of themselves by eating healthily, sleeping enough, moving often and de-stressing regularly are less affected by diseases. And in a pandemic like this, it’s kind of an insurance to safeguard yourself, bi’idnillah

    If you don’t take your health seriously, then it’s time that you consider making changes to your lifestyle. 

    The Prophet (SAW) said, “There are two blessings which many people waste: health and free time.” (Sahih Al-Buhari).

    I hope and pray that you won’t be on that list. What one thing you are going to change immediately to improve your health? 

    (If you need my assistance for that, I can certainly help you improve your health, bi’idnillah

    Love 

    With forced quarantines and lockdowns, a large number of people around the world are being forced to be at home. In fact, I cannot recall any other moment in the recent past that has forced so many people from so many countries to stay or work from home. 

    With that restriction, I see a huge blessing too. We now have more time for our family than ever before. There is no socialising, no shopping, no fun outside and we are being forced to be creative and spend quality time with our loved ones. 

    Think of three ways that you can improve your relationship with your family in this difficult time. Here are a few suggestions from me:

    1. Pray together in congregation at home
    2. Eat together
    3. Exercise together – it’s a fun way to stay connected with your family
    4. Take a small project and involve your family, for example: memorising a part of the Quran
    5. Spend time talking to each other
    6. Switch off your smartphones for at least a few hours of the day while spending time with your family

    Legacy 

    Such a challenging situation reminds us that our life in this world is temporary and we may need to leave this world soon. 

    What have we prepared for that journey? What is our legacy we are leaving behind?

    It’s an excellent opportunity to rethink our priorities and start working on our legacy. 

    What is your service to mankind? What are you going to do individually or collectively to help others? What little things can you do to bring a smile on others’ faces? 

    I can’t think of a group of people who don’t need any help at this stage. Everyone needs some help in one or the other way. 

    Think about ways how you can serve others. 

    The Prophet (SAW) said, “The best of people are those that bring most benefit to people” (Daraqutni, Hasan)

  • [3-Minute Blog] A Muslim’s Guide to the Corona Virus

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is a pandemic. By the WHO’s definition, any new disease that spreads worldwide is defined as a pandemic. 

    In such an exceptional situation, how must a Muslim react? 

    Aisha radiyallahuaha asked the Messenger of Allah (SAW) about a similar situation, regarding plagues. He (SAW) said: 

    It is a punishment that Allah sends upon whomever he wills, but a mercy for the believers. Any servant who resides in a land afflicted by plague, remaining patient and hoping for a reward from Allah, knowing that nothing will befall him but what Allah has decreed, he will be given the reward of a martyr.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari) 

    This hadith teaches us a lot of things. Here are some of the important lessons we can derive: 

    • This pandemic is a blessing for believers
    • A Muslim takes this opportunity to rethink about his relationship with his Lord, himself and with others 
    • He knows that tests from Allah are ways for him to come closer to his Lord and to improve himself in many ways 
    • In a pandemic such as today, a Muslim learns to focus on the things that he can control and leave the rest to Allah subuhanawuta’la

    You’ve certainly come across many protective measures against the coronavirus, such as washing your hands thoroughly and maintaining social distance. Therefore, in today’s article, I would like to provide you with an additional five protective measures to protect you and your family. 

    Here are the five tools to improve your immune system. 

    #1. Frequent Dua 

    Du’a is the weapon of a believer. We need to utilise this weapon more now than ever before. 

    While we ask Allah to protect us from this disease, we should also beseech him subuhanawuta’la to improve our immune system. 

    The Prophet (SAW) said: “Whoever recites the following three times in the morning will not be afflicted by any calamity before evening, and whoever recites it three times in the evening will not be overtaken by any calamity by morning:

    Bismillāh, alladhi la yaḍurru ma`a ismihi shai’un fil-arḍi wa la fis-samā’, wa huwa’lSamī`ul `Alīm

    ‘In the Name of Allah, Who with His Name nothing can cause harm in the earth nor in the heavens, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” (Tirmidhi)

    #2. Enough Sleep 

    I’ve talked about sleep extensively. And one of the most important reasons to get enough sleep is to improve your immune system.

    Studies confirm that one of the areas most affected by a lack of sleep is your immune system. A study from the University of California shows that reducing your sleep to just four hours for a single night drops your natural killer cell activity to a level of 72%. 

    Your natural killer cells are a critical part of your immune defence arsenal. These killer cells are responsible for identifying and destroying malignant cells. Natural killer cells are an important innate cell type in the defence against viruses.

    Try to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep. Please note that most people need 7-9 hours of sleep every night for a healthy immune system. 

    #3. Manage Your Stress

    Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever-increasing demands of life which we all go through at some point in our lives. However, when the stress turns chronic, then it can be bad for us. Chronic stress weakens our immune system. 

    In a study, researchers found that even under the simple stress of a three-day exam period, the students’ immunity went down. These students had fewer natural killer cells, which fight tumours and viral infections. They almost stopped producing immunity-boosting gamma interferon and infection-fighting T-cells responded only weakly to test-tube stimulation.

    Now imagine what happens to people who are constantly following the coronavirus news? Their stress level can be very high and can negatively impact their immune system. 

    Learn to manage your stress by unplugging from media and spending more time with things that are beneficial to your Dunya and Aakhira. 

    In this article, I show you a simple breathing technique to manage stress. 

    #4. Regular Exercise

    One of the quickest ways to improve your immune system is to start working out. 

    When it comes to strengthening your immune system, the importance of exercise is, unfortunately, less appreciated.

    The thing is, regular exercise fortifies your immune system. So try to do some sort of exercise at least 20 minutes a day for a minimum of 5 days a week. 

    Even simple walking, jogging, swimming, yoga or any other type of exercise can help to improve your immune system. 

    In 7 Natural Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System, I talked about how exercise improves the immune system. 

    #5. Healthy eating 

    I certainly don’t think this is news anymore. Eating healthy becomes more important than ever before. 

    Eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. They are nature’s very own medicine cabinet. So strive to get a minimum of five to seven portions a day. 

    In general, eat whole foods and avoid processed foods. In this article, I explain three simple ways to achieve that. 

  • [3-Minute Blog] How Inflammation Impacts Your Brain and Mind

    In the last few weeks, we’ve discussed how chronic inflammation destroys our health. However, I also discussed some antidotes in the form of food, sleep and exercise. 

    Today I want to talk briefly about the harmful influence inflammation has on our mind. 

    Keeping my mind healthy is one of my top priorities. As someone who learns, writes and teaches extensively, every ounce of focus becomes my life-line. If your mind is not healthy, you won’t be able to focus on the most essential things in life. 

    In today’s article, let’s look at how inflammation derails the health of your brain and mind. 

    How Inflammation Affects Your Brain Function 

    The pathway of how inflammation affects your brain function is quite straightforward. High levels of blood sugar creates high levels of inflammation. And higher levels of inflammation in the body are associated with sub-optimum brain function.

    So what causes your blood sugar to increase? Sugar and refined carbs. Eat sugar and your blood sugar will go up. 

    In a previous article, we discussed how sugar, refined carbs and unhealthy fats increase the level of your inflammation in your body. So if you can control what you eat, you can manage your blood sugar level and thus your inflammation levels as well. 

    But we also know that it’s not just foods high in sugar and carbs that cause inflammation. In fact lack of sleep, lots of stress, and even body fat, especially around the waistline, can amplify inflammation.

    A study, published in one of the most respected neurology journals, found that people who have biomarkers linked to inflammation in their 40s and 50s may have more brain shrinkage and poorer memory function decades later than those without the biomarkers.

    In another study, researchers found that a bigger waistline and a higher body mass index (BMI) in your 60s may be linked to greater signs of brain ageing years later. The study suggests that these factors may accelerate brain ageing by at least a decade.

    This means that having a potbelly in your thirties becomes a high-risk factor for a declining brain when reaching your fifties and sixties.

    Another interesting finding of high levels of inflammation was the lack of access to your empathy centre when inflammation levels were high. The empathy centre is also known as your “connectedness” centre which is responsible for empathy, compassion and planning for the future. 

    How Inflammation Affects Your Happiness

    Food impacts how we relate to each other. It affects how we relate to ourselves and our experience of the world around us.

    We know that depression is an inflammatory condition. Higher levels of these inflammatory chemicals correlate to the changes in the brain that link to depression. Therefore, a diet high in sugar is associated with a higher risk for depression as well as dementia.

    Inflammation reduces your body’s ability to make the happy chemical serotonin. The higher levels of inflammation antagonises the receptors in the brain where serotonin can do what it’s supposed to do;  keep us happy.

    Second Chance to Repair Your Brain

    However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If you are serious about reversing the ill effects of inflammation, there is good news. 

    Scientists have recently found out that we can turn on the growth of new brain cells and reverse the current condition to repair the brain. 

    As research shows, aerobic exercise produces the chemical BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which turns on the growth of brand new brain cells. This process is called neurogenesis.

    So according to this research, those who exercised for a year compared to the control group had these three important advantages: 

    1. Exercisers had higher levels of BDNF 
    2. On MRI scans, exercisers had a bigger memory centre
    3. On neuropsychological testing, exercisers had a better memory

    Moreover, those people who exercise regularly become more resistant to developing Alzheimer’s disease – a disease for which there is no cure.

    The more BDNF you can produce, the better it is for your brain’s ageing and memory. However, your body’s high level of inflammation works against the ability to grow new brain cells by reducing BDNF formation. And a lower level of BDNF is a characterisation of depression too. 

    So if you want to repair your brain and give it a second chance, then start exercising regularly and eat healthier and wholesome food. That’s good for both your inflammation levels and happy mind.  

  • [3-Minute Blog] 5 Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation

    The past two weeks we have looked at what inflammation is and what foods can trigger its onset.  

    This week I want to show you five natural ways to reduce inflammation. 

    Sleep at least 7 hours a night

    Sleep is a topic which we have discussed extensively on this blog. And for good reason too. There has been much research on the effects of losing sleep on the body, one of which is inflammation. Sleeping less even for a single night increases inflammation in your body. 

    A crucial routine that must be established in your sleeping routine is setting a specific time in which you go to sleep and wake up. This is so that you are in line with your circadian rhythm which is an important aspect of good health.

    The circadian rhythm is basically your 24-hour internal clock which is also known as your sleep/wake cycle. It works best when you have regular sleep habits, like going to bed at night and waking up in the morning around the same times from day to day. When these routines are disrupted, it can cause a person to feel under the weather and makes it harder to pay attention. 

    In addition to that, the disruption of the circadian rhythm can also dysregulate your immune system and with it, your levels of inflammation can also go up too.   

    Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet

    There isn’t a specific anti-inflammatory diet per se. Rather it’s the choices you make. 

    In simple terms, an anti-inflammatory diet contains a lot of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, lean protein, whole grains and spices. Exactly the same “diet” that I encourage my clients to adapt. (Want to find out more about my Lean & Healthy Programme? Click here

    An anti-inflammatory diet also limits the consumption of sugar, processed foods, refined carbs and unhealthy fats. We discussed foods that can onset inflammation in the previous blog, you can read it here.

    But how does an anti-inflammatory diet combat inflammation? An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on foods which contain high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants can be found in a lot of fruit and vegetables and contain the key to fighting off harmful by-products in our bodies called free radicals which are dangerous as they can damage cells leading to inflammation. Other key foods to combat inflammation are omega-3 containing foods found in fish and nuts. 

    If you want a simple approach to an anti-inflammatory diet, then read about my simple nutrition philosophy.  

    Exercise regularly 

    Most people exercise to lose weight. But the fact is, exercise isn’t just a weight-loss tool, it is, more importantly, a well-being tool. This is one of the crucial first lessons I teach my clients. 

    Regular exercise is essential, regardless of your age and weight. Just like our body needs food, the body also needs movement. Nearly every single cell in the body’s well-being is connected with movement. What does it mean for us? The more we move, the better we feel.

    When we exercise, inflammation is brought down by the removal of waste by the lymphatic system. The fresh pump of blood and oxygen around the body allows the build-up of toxins in the body to be removed as well as gently restoring your digestive system. So whether or not you want to shed that fat, burning your calories will help you greatly in reducing inflammation. 

    As little as 20-minutes daily exercise is shown to reduce inflammation significantly. Also, there are many research studies confirming the beneficial effects of exercise on inflammation. 

    Maintain a healthy weight 

    Most people are unaware of the fact that their own excess body fat can cause dangerous implications to their health such as inflammation. If you want to know more about how being overweight is directly linked to inflammation, I would highly recommend reading this research study

    The link between obesity and increased inflammation is pretty much an established fact in science. So if you are overweight, you certainly need to start doing something to lose your excess weight. 

    If you need my help, I’m more than pleased to help you achieve that dream ( Find out more about my Lean & Healthy Programme here).

    Use spices and herbs

    Most people think superfoods are expensive and out of reach. But the truth is, every one of us has easy access to these superfoods and don’t even know it. These underappreciated superfoods are already lying in your kitchen closet. Yep, I’m talking about spices and herbs. Spices and herbs are extremely potent when compared to any other foods. Adding them to your food can increase the antioxidant power of your meal, and they also taste good too. 

    The top two spices that reduce inflammation are garlic and turmeric. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas shows that curcumin (an active substance in turmeric) is among the most effective anti-inflammatory compounds in the world.

    Spices and herbs like cayenne pepper, ginger, clove, cinnamon, rosemary and sage are also known for their powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. 

    So next time you cook, make sure to add those spices and herbs to increase the antioxidant power of your meal. 

    Three Take Away Lessons: 

    1. Sleep! Maintaining good sleep hygiene is an important part of regulating inflammation 
    2. Eat a balanced and anti-inflammatory diet. How? Pack in those antioxidants found in fruit & vegetables as well as spices & herbs
    3. Exercising regularly will help to reduce inflammatory factors and contribute to your overall well being
  • [3-Minute Blog] Can Certain Foods Increase Your Inflammation?

    Chronic inflammation can have a negative impact on your health. That much has already been established from my previous article.

    My goal with these 3-minute blogs is to give you simple but practical advice which you can begin to incorporate into your life in order to achieve a healthier lifestyle. When equipped with the correct knowledge, you can make the right choices when it comes to food. 

    On that note, our focus today is on reducing or eliminating foods that can cause inflammation. If you are motivated to live a healthier life, then reducing inflammation in your body is definitely the best way to start. 

    What you eat has a significant impact on the level of inflammation in your body. Without getting too scientifical, I would like to talk about three foods that no doubt trigger inflammation.

    Sugar

    Sugar is bad for us. That’s certainly not news for you. In 5 Dangers of Sugar No One Talks About I’ve already mentioned the disastrous effects of sugar. If you aren’t aware of the risks that sugar poses, I highly recommend you to read that article. 

    Most of the risks are directly linked to sugar’s ability to increase inflammation. 

    Moderation is good in all but sugar. Research from the University of Zurich confirms that just a can of soda containing 40 grams of sugar (equivalent to 8 spoonfuls) led to an increase in inflammatory markers. 

    A diet that is high in added sugar and refined carbohydrates increases inflammation like kerosine increases flames!  

    Reducing your daily intake of sugar is definitely the way to start reducing any inflammation. If you are looking for sugar alternatives, here is one of my most-read articles of all time: 6 Healthy Alternatives to Table Sugar.

    Refined Carbs

    Refined carbs are from grain products that have been processed. They are forms of sugars and starches that don’t exist in nature. They come from whole natural foods but have been altered in some way or another by processing, to “refine” them. An excellent example of a refined carb is white flour. White flour is refined to get that white and airy texture which is great for baking but has virtually zero nutrient value.

    Several studies suggest eating too many refined carbohydrates increases inflammation in your body. This Australian study suggests that even a single slice of white bread or pasta (50 grams) can elevate your inflammation level.

    It’s important to note that not all carbs are equal. In Why Carb’s Aren’t As Bad As You Think, I’ve explained the difference between the types of carbs. 

    Unhealthy Fat: Trans Fat & Vegetable Oil 

    Fat is healthy, and we should strive to get healthy fat in our daily diet. In The Fat Dilemma, I explain the healthy fats to eat as well as the right amounts. 

    While healthy fat is a health enhancer, unhealthy fat can be a health destroyer. Most unhealthy fats will increase the level of inflammation in our body. 

    Of all the unhealthy fats, the worst one is an artificial fat called trans fat. This fat is produced through hydrogenation, which is a chemical process that converts liquid vegetable oil into solid fat. Artificial trans fats are mostly found in margarine, french fries, packaged cookies, pastries, and in all processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. 

    Vegetable oil such as that from canola, soybean, sunflower etc. contains omega-6. Omega-6 is beneficial when the intake is balanced with omega-3. However, when the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 goes up, the level of inflammation level goes up too. 

    So skip the trans fat and reduce the vegetable oil intake as much as you can. 

    Three Take Away Lessons:

    1. Skip the sugar or try alternatives 
    2. Limit your intake of refined carbs. When possible, swap it with healthier natural carbs. 
    3. Abandon unhealthy fats as they do more bad than good to your body. 
  • [3-Minute Blog] What is Inflammation?

    Inflammation.

    What’s inflammation? You might have come across the term and be wondering what it means and how it affects your health. 

    The word inflammation comes from the Latin word inflamma, which means fire. Fire is beneficial if it is kept in check, and harmful if you let it run wild. The same rule applies to inflammation. It could save your life or lead to death if let run wild.

    In today’s article, I want to present to you the basics of inflammation and Insha Allah in the upcoming weeks, we shall dig deeper to understand some of its benefits and dangers. 

    What is inflammation?

    Inflammation is the immune system’s response to an irritant. The irritant can be: 

    • an infection caused by bacteria or a virus
    • an injury such as scrapes or a thorn prick on your finger
    • a toxin that travels through polluted air or chemical 

    When one of these irritants damages your cells, your immune system is alerted and begins to repair the damage. Most of our injuries are automatically healed by our body’s inflammation process. 

    Hence, this is why I like to call inflammation, or more accurately “acute inflammation” as a blessing from Allah subuhanawuta’la. Not only has he created such a complex system that is our body but also put in place self-healing mechanisms which allows it to repair itself. The whole healing process of acute inflammation can last from a few hours to a few days.

    When is inflammation dangerous? 

    When the inflammation becomes uncontrolled or chronic, it can pose as a curse for our health. In fact, chronic inflammation is one of the main reasons for many modern diseases. 

    According to the World Health Organisation, chronic degenerative conditions are one of the leading causes of death around the globe. Scientists believe that chronic inflammation is behind most of these degenerative conditions.

    Many emerging studies suggest that chronic inflammation could be the cause of these disorders:

    • Type 2 diabetes, 
    • Cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, 
    • Obesity, 
    • Cancer, 
    • Asthma, and 
    • Ageing

    What causes chronic inflammation?

    When the same acute inflammation persists longer, it becomes chronic inflammation. So instead of just fighting off damaged cells, chronic inflammation ends up attacking nearby healthy cells too. 

    There are many causes of chronic inflammation, and here are a few important ones:

    • An untreated injury or infection
    • Long-term exposure to polluted air or industrial chemicals
    • Long-term sleep disturbances as well as sleep deprivation
    • An autoimmune disorder (immune system fights against the body’s own healthy cells by mistake, causing harmful inflammations)

    Apart from these causes, many attributing factors cause chronic inflammation too, such as chronic stress, obesity, smoking, alcohol etc.

    Acute inflammation is a natural part of the healing process. The problem begins when it becomes chronic. So bringing your chronic inflammation under control is crucial for reducing your risk of long-term damage. 

    In the upcoming weeks, we’ll discuss some important ways to keep the inflammation in check. 

  • [3-Minute Blog] How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Weight-loss and Performance

    Here is a quick background. In Why We Sleep, I spoke about the purpose of sleep. In How Lack of Sleep Impacts Your Immune System, I discussed how sleep deprivation affects your immune system, cardiovascular health and many other areas of your life.

    Today I explain how your sleep deprivation impacts your weight-loss and exercise performance. 

    Sleep and Weight-loss

    Healthy weigh-loss means that you lose your excess body fat while retaining your lean muscle mass. Your muscle mass is incredibly crucial for movement, flexibility, healthy ageing and obviously for looking toned and ripped. 

    One study found that people who were routinely sleeping less than 6 hours a night on a weight loss diet lost the same weight as those who slept 8.5 hours a day. But here is the caveat, the underslept group lost mostly muscle mass, whereas the well-slept group lost primarily fat. 

    In other words, your body will ruthlessly hold onto its fat when you are underslept. 

    Besides, your sleep deprivation leads to an increased risk of obesity. With a lack of sleep, your hunger hormones go wild. Leptin, the hormone that signals your satiety/fullness level after a meal, doesn’t rise as high as it should after a meal. This means even after a large meal, you’ll feel hungry and want to eat more. 

    But that’s not all, your ghrelin level – the hormone that signals your brain that you have had enough – continue to increase and signals to your brain that you still are hungry, despite that large meal. A double whammy on your efforts to lose weight! 

    The result? You tend to overeat by 200-300 calories per meal when you are sleep deprived. That’s a total of 70’000 extra calories each year, which translates into 4-5 kg of excess body fat a year. To make things even worse, your body craves more simple carbs and sugary foods (two culprits that lead to weight gain) when you are short of sleep.

    It’s a vicious cycle. When you eat a diet high in processed carbs and low in fibre (such as simple carbs and sugary foods), you tend to have 

    • Less amounts of deep sleep, 
    • take longer to fall asleep, and 
    • awake more throughout the night.

    Have you tried my Power Shake? Unlike the simple carbs and sugary food, it helps you improve all aspects of your health, bi’idnillah

    In another study, people were deprived of sleep for four hours per night for just two weeks suffered a 50% reduced ability to dispose of glucose into muscle tissue. On a simple level – the glucose (from those carbs and sugary foods you consumed) stays in the bloodstream, rather than being directed to muscle. 

    What’s the consequence? If your doctor took a blood test, he would declare you as a pre-diabetic. In short, you are just one step closer to getting diabetes. 

    Sleep and Performance 

    If you’re getting six hours of sleep or less, your time to physical exhaustion drops by up to 30%. This means if you are 10k runner, your ability to run 10k drops to 7k! 

    Your lack of sleep also lowers your peak muscular strength, reduces your vertical jump height and lowers your peak running speed.

    Moreover, your risk of getting injured increases too. One study showed a 60% increase in the probability of injury comparing people who get nine hours of sleep a night, to those who get five. 

    But that’s not all, with insufficient sleep, all of the following suffer too:

    • Your motivation to exercise 
    • Your reaction time – six hours of sleep for one week can drop your reaction time by almost a half a second
    • Your aerobic output
    • The amount of force you can generate

    Sleep is the best performance enhancer. So if you are concerned about your sports performance and want to lose body fat, not muscle mass, try getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night. However, if you want to obtain all the benefits of sleep for your cognitive and physical health, try getting 8 hours of sleep. 

    Eating and Exercising Before Bed

    To get a night of deep high-quality sleep, I highly recommend you to stick to these recommendations: 

    Eating

    • Eat your last meal at least 2 hours before your bedtime, ideally 3 hours. 
    • Avoid eating simple carbs (foods that consist of high amounts of white flour, sugar) too close to bedtime as they raise your core body temperature. To fall asleep, your body needs to drop the core body temperature by 1-degree Celsius (or 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit)
    • As a rule of thumb, don’t go to bed too full or too hungry. If you need to eat/snack before bed, lean more towards higher protein meals/snack and away from simple sugars

    Exercise

    • Exercising too close to bedtime raises your core body temperature and can hinder sleep. Make sure to finish your workouts at least 2 hours before your bedtime.
    • Exercise is excellent for your health, and doing it in the morning hours is even better for your health and sleep. In When is the Best Time to Workout, I discuss this in more detail. 
  • [3-Minute Blog] How Sleep Impacts Your Immune System

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    In Why We Sleep, I briefly discussed the benefits of sleeping for our overall health, and particularly our brain health. 

    In this article, I’ll continue to explore the health benefits of sleep. 

    Let me start with one of my most favourite quotes by Dr Matthew Walker from his book. He says, “There is no aspect of a human being’s wellness that isn’t eroded by a lack of sleep. EVERY single disease that’s killing us in the developed world has causal links to it.

    Sleep thus becomes not just one of the pillars of our health, but the very foundation of our health. 

    Based on rigorously researched studies, here are some of the damages that happen to our body when we sleep less than the bare minimum of 7-hours a day. 

    How Your Lack of Sleep Wrecks Your Immune System

    One of the areas that are most affected by a lack of sleep is your immune system. A study from the University of California shows that reducing your sleep to just four hours for one single night drops your natural killer cell activity to a level of 72%. 

    Your natural killer cells are a critical part of your immune defence arsenal. These killer cells are responsible for identifying and destroying malignant cancer cells. As you probably know, we all have cancer cells within our body, and what really prevents the formation of full-on cancer, are these natural killer cells. Now imagine what happens to your immune system after months of insufficient sleep! 

    OK, sleeping for four hours sounds extreme for you and you may be among those who get a regular six hours of sleep. Fine, if that is you, please read this study.  

    Researchers deprived a group of individuals to only 6 hours of sleep per night for just one week. Here is what they found. 711 genes of the ~20,000 genes in the human genome (~3%) were distorted in a single week of sleep deprivation. 

    Some of the genes that are associated with the immune system were down-regulated, in other words, the immune system became weaker. And some other genes that are associated with tumour promotion, chronic inflammation, and stress were up-regulated, meaning that this accelerated the already bad condition. All of these happened just due to one single week of sleep deprivation. 

    Conclusion: You are genetically modifying yourself by not getting enough sleep.

    Cardiovascular Disease is Accelerated by Sleep Deprivation

    More than 1.5 billion people in 70 countries around the world observe daylight savings time every year. It’s an excellent opportunity for scientists to observe what this one-hour sleep loss does to our human body. They found some fascinating correlations: 

    • In the spring, when we lose an hour of sleep – there’s a 24% rise increase in heart attacks the following day
    • In the fall when we gain an hour of sleep – there’s a 21% reduction in heart attacks the following day

    Another study found that getting an average of five hours of sleep or less over five years leads to a 200-300% increased risk of calcification of the coronary artery. People who are under-slept have overactive sympathetic nervous systems (the flight or fight nervous system), which results in more circulating adrenaline, higher spikes of cortisol, and blunted levels of growth hormone (all of which are tied to cardiovascular diseases).

    Even a loss of only three hours of sleep will result in increased blood pressure and heart rate. 

    But these are not the only dangers of lack of sleep, here are a few more. 

     A lack of sleep:

    • Increases your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
    • Reduces the activity of your immune system
    • Impairs learning/memory 
    • Increases your risk of cardiovascular disease
    • Increases your risk of cancer
    • Contributes to depression and anxiety
    • AND leads to diabetes/insulin resistance/weight gain

    I’ll meet you next week with another article related to sleep. Until then, here is the takeaway lesson for you: 

    Sleep is a gift from Allah subuhanawuta’la to improve our health so that we can live our life fully and achieve our best version. 

  • How to Become Smarter, Think Better and Achieve a Healthy Brain (Part 2)

    Movement is truly a magical pill. It’s great for anyone, and it improves every area of your life, but most importantly movement can help you become smarter and achieve a healthy brain. We discussed this in detail in part one. In today’s article, we’ll continue to look at the benefits of movement for our brain and briefly discuss how eating less can help you thrive.

    I thought of starting with this very interesting hadith, which places exercise on an entirely different level. In an authentic hadith that is narrated in At-Tabarani, the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) 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 about this hadith is, almost all of what the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) mentioned here are physical activities that promote one’s physical strength and health. Though there are so many lessons to be learned from this hadith, for the sake of brevity I would just like to stick to the apparent meaning of it. According to this hadith, your time spent on physical movements or exercise is certainly beneficial for you in this world and the Aakhira than doing other mundane things.  

    The latest science is unambiguous about the benefits exercise has on our mood as well as spirituality. Let’s dig in!

    Exercise is the best medicine for depression

    For long, I had the impression that Muslims are generally safe from depression, but that seems to be far from the truth.

    Depression is a serious issue in many Muslim communities around the world. A truly practising, God-conscious Muslim may be safer from depression than less practising Muslims, but this doesn’t mean that God-consciousness is automatically protection against depression. Depression is a real illness and affects people in different ways. It’s important that we acknowledge this and start working on treating it effectively.

    Most clinically depressed people get medications prescribed but we now know that simple exercise and movement can help these people better than their expensive medicines. At least, that’s what I’ve found digging in countless research papers.

    In the incredible book, How of Happiness, Sonja Lubermeski talks about the importance of walking/jogging (generally about aerobic exercises) for being happy and warding off depression. 

    In this book, she cites a scientific research, where clinically depressed individuals are taken into a lab. The researchers split them into three groups. The first group was assigned to four months of aerobic exercise while the second group got an antidepressant medication (Zoloft) and the third group got both exercise and the medication. 

    Here are the results in the word of the author herself:

    “Remarkably, by the end of the four-month intervention period, all three groups had experienced their depressions lift and reported fewer dysfunctional attitudes and increased happiness and self-esteem. Aerobic exercise was just as effective at treating depression as was Zoloft, or as a combination of exercise and Zoloft. Yet exercise is a lot less expensive, usually with no side effects apart from soreness. Perhaps even more remarkably, six months later, participants who had ‘remitted’ (recovered) from their depressions were less likely to relapse if they had been in the exercise group (six months ago!) than if they had been in the medication group.” 

    Subhanallah! That was truly my reaction when I first read this! May Allah subuhanawuta’la grant us all the ability to understand and put the beneficial things we learn into practice.

    Now, if you want to take one step further, try to walk/exercise in forests or natural parks. It seems that being outside in nature is much better than just walking on the treadmill inside your house or gym.  

    In Move Your DNA, Katy Bowman tells us just how walking in the forest is beneficial for our energetic hygiene.

    Here’s how she puts it: “Shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing,’ is the process of making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest. Heavily researched in Japan, forest-bathing has been shown to promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate and blood pressure, and a reduction of ‘technostress,’ as measured by a reduction in cerebral activity.

    While anyone who has spent a few hours wandering out in nature can tell you that yes, it’s very relaxing, it is through scientific investigations that the mechanism behind our physiological response to the trees is better understood.

    We aren’t responding to the trees per se, but rather undergoing an invisible interaction with phytoncides—active chemical substances given off by plants. The tree, secreting these substances to ward off harmful bugs and rot, is also providing us with a compound that does our body good.”

    Why exercise is good for your creativity

    All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” – Nietsche 

    In Healthy Brain, Happy Life, Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki argues that exercise can be a very powerful medium to increase your creative juices

    She argues that hippocampus (we talked about it in part one, remember?) is not only important for memory, but also for imagination, which is a key component of creativity.

    Now, how does exercise play a part in your creativity? Well, exercise helps to create brand-new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) in the hippocampus. And she hypothesises that these new brain cells enhance our imaginative ability.  

    I feel this is so true from my own experience. Whenever I’m stuck in my writing process, all I do is a vigorous walk. Soon after my walk, I feel it’s much easier to write and share my ideas with you 🙂

    In this short 3-minute video, she explains how exercise can help you improve your creativity in a nutshell.

    How movement can help your children to excel

    As a father of three gorgeous princesses, I’m always interested in how I can help my children to excel in everything they do.

    So after learning about the significance of movement for brain health, I was intrigued to know how important it is for children.

    Do you want me to summarise everything I learned about movement for kids? Here is what I can tell you in a few sentences:

    If you want your child to behave well, have more focus and excel in education (I guess that’s what pretty much all the parents want, right?), one of the best and easiest things you can do is to make your child move a lot. The more he/she moves, the better they become at it.

    What the most fascinating thing is, that movement (any sports or exercise in general) help your children to control their emotions better. If you have a teen at home, you know how important emotion control is 🙂 So what’s the best thing you can do for your kids? Chase them outside to move more. Let them run, play and jump as much as they can. The last thing they need is a digital device to keep them hooked on their chair.

    Here are some studies (among 100s of studies) that I find most interesting to share. In a fascinating 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 (and memory is the most important ingredient for learning), I don’t know of a better way to boost your brain than by working out regularly.

    Research in the Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that the higher fitness level of students is associated with higher cognitive performance and academic performance.

    In another research involving more than 1000 students, scientist found that passing both the Mathematics and English test increased as the number of fitness tests passed increased.

    So here is the takeaway message for you: Activities or the movements I’ve been talking about are great for anyone. It improves every area of your life. However, the number of hours your kids spend in movement define who they are in 5,10 or 20 years!

    There is so much more to share about the benefits of movement, but for the sake of brevity, I’m stopping here. However, I hope I’ve now convinced you to move more 🙂

    If that’s the case, here is a simple protocol to move more.

    How to move more: 

    I keep on mentioning the word move because it encompasses all the activities too (Check part one to learn more). You can move pretty much any day, anywhere, in any fashion. You don’t need any particular plans or outfits. You are free to do when and where you want.

    So the tips I’m going to provide you are exclusively about moving more and not about working out more. There is a difference, and I talked about it in part one.

    Here are some of my practical ideas (that I follow and teach my clients too). Start what is easy for you and then build up slowly.

    10’000 steps a day

    Regardless of your fitness level, starting to move 10,000 (roughly around 7 km) steps a day is a great place to start. If that’s a difficult goal, at least start with 5,000 steps and then increase the steps slowly to achieve your 10,000-steps-a-day goal.

    Here is the thing; you don’t need to make these 10,000 steps in one sitting. Every small step counts. You can track your steps on your smartphone or smartwatch. To achieve your daily 10,000 steps, here are a few practical suggestions: 

    • Track your progress: What gets tracked gets improved. Just the simple act of tracking will motivate you to move more.
    • Plan your walk ahead: Plan to go for a walk at least two times for 20 minutes a day.
    • Walk 2 minutes every hour: Every waking hour, walk at least for 2 minutes (check the research I mentioned in part one of this article). If you are awake 16 hours a day, it makes a total of 32 minutes. Set an automatic reminder (I use this app), otherwise, you’ll forget it.
    • Use stairs instead of elevators.
    • Instead of taking a short cut to masjid/work/office/school, take a slightly longer route. Even if it’s just 50 m longer, it adds up.

    How eating less leads to a healthier brain

    In part one, I told you that there are two simple hacks to achieve a healthier brain. The second hack is about eating less. Eating less has tremendous health benefits for us. It’s not just about losing weight, but the benefits have a lot to do with increased lifespan (these researchers are done on mice and monkeys, not on humans), less age-related diseases etc.

    According to this research from Florida State University, one of the most important benefits of eating less is perhaps that it may reduce the risks of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease etc.

    And in many other researchers that are done on mice and monkeys prove that a calorie restricted diet, in fact, may improve brain health in various ways.

    Though we don’t have conclusive results on how caloric reduction can lead to better brain health in humans, scientists do say that the preliminary results indicate a positive change in the brain health of humans, when they reduce their calories.

    So these researches are still in preliminary stages. But that didn’t prevent me from mentioning it, because I’ve got the hadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) to back up 🙂 As you know, in the Sunnah, we are advised to eat less and encouraged not to fill our stomach. As long as we stick to the Sunnah, we’ve certainly countless benefits for this world and in the Aakhira. And given from all the other research materials, we know that eating less has huge benefits for our well-being and there is no reason to believe that the benefits won’t extend to our brain health.

    I do need to insist on one thing here. The quality of your food trumps the quantity of your food. So just eating less won’t help you, if the quality of your food is sub-optimal. The types of food you eat influences your health, mood and emotions more than the quantity of your food. Consuming 300 calories’ worth of broccoli is not the same as eating a cup of sugar-laden cereals with 300 calories.

    And we also know from studies that sugar for instance increase laziness and unhealthy trans-fats make you more aggressive. And both sugar and trans-fats are abundant in most processed foods.

    So next time you sit to start, make sure you eat whole quality foods that are not processed and eat only until you are 80 per cent full.

    If you need my help to instil healthy habits in your life so that you can become the best version of you, then click here.