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  • How to Become Smarter, Think Better And Achieve a Healthy Brain

    Your brain is perhaps the most fascinating thing in the universe! Its ability to do good, innovate and create is the most amazing thing any creation of Allah can do! Nevertheless, the brain is also the most neglected and the least taken care of organ in our body. My sincere hope is that this article will transform the way you take care of that precious organ!  

    Your brain is the gateway to your intellect. And the intellect is one of the greatest blessings Allah subuhanawuta’la has bestowed upon us. He has honoured the man and favoured him over other creatures through this intellect.  

    In fact, one of the objectives of Islamic Sharia is to protect the intellect at any cost. It is for this reason that Allah subuhanawuta’la has forbidden all types of intoxicants and drugs, which He describes as an abomination of Satan’s handiwork: “O you who believe, intoxicants, gambling, stone altars and divining arrows are abominations devised by Satan. Avoid them so that you may be successful.” (Sura Al-Maa’idah, 5:90)

    While it’s obligatory to protect our intellect from all these forbidden things, it’s also highly commendable in Islam to work on practical things to develop our intellect. And one way of doing that is obviously protecting our brain from damages and improving its efficiency in every possible way.

    For this reason, I’ve talked about brain health extensively in some of my previous articles too. In those articles, I’ve argued how nutrition, sleep, exercise, prayer etc. play an important role in building a smarter and healthier brain.

    My goal today is to show you how you can become smarter, think better and achieve a healthy brain even at an old age by immediately following these two simple hacks:

    1. Move more
    2. Eat less

    Move more

    What do I mean by movement?

    Movement is moving your whole body or a part of your body to avoid being sedentary. So, 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. etc. etc.


    Source: Move Your DNA

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

    By this definition, even cooking becomes a movement. Cleaning? Yes of course! Likewise, walking running, doing yoga, working out all becomes a movement.

    Though not all movements are equal, even those small movements add up throughout the day and benefit our health immensely.

    The difference between exercise and movement

    Now, this may lead you to ask the question, what then the real difference is between movement and exercise.

    Well, unlike movement, exercise is something that you do on a particular day in a particular place in a particular way. Going to the gym? Yes, you are exercising! Jogging? Yes, of course.


    Source: Move Your DNA

    So most of us focus on how much we exercise. That’s actually great, but just exercise alone isn’t enough for optimum health.

    How excessive sitting cancels the benefits of exercise

    In a highly researched book, Are You Fully Charged, the Author Tom Rath references a 2014 study by the National Institute of Health of America. The study estimates that every two hours of sitting cancels out the benefits of 20 minutes of exercise. When researchers from the National Institutes of Health followed more than 200,000 people for a decade, they found that even seven hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week was not enough to protect against the hazards of excessive sitting. Even the most active group they studied — people who exercised more than seven hours every week — had a 50 per cent greater risk of death and doubled their odds of dying from heart disease if they were also in the group that sat the most throughout the day.

    And there are reams of such studies that do confirm this: Excessive sitting cannot be counteracted by few minutes of exercise a day.

    What’s the solution then? The solution is to start moving more! Finding new ways to replace your sedentary habits with more movement.

    Remember, regular exercise is and should be part of your overall movement, but movement should occupy a lion share in your daily life!  


    Source: Move Your DNA

    A simple hack to move more

    In some of my previous articles, I’ve provided quite a lot of practical ways to move more. Check them out:

    All of the practical ways I’ve mentioned in these articles are incredibly easy and simple to do. However, the one I’m going to mention now is perhaps the easiest and doable for most folks.

    If you are someone who sits all day long (ok, I agree that’s how most humans work 🙂 ), try taking a tiny break and walk for just two minutes! That’s it. Yep, walk just two minutes every hour! Isn’t that easy?

    I know you are sceptical, aren’t you? But, latest research verifies my claim and shows that as little as two minutes of movement every hour can help improve your health. The underlying message from this research is that all physical activity counts. The little things you do every day, such as climbing a flight of stairs or walking every two minutes an hour can add up and affect your health positively.

    Just two minutes of walking every hour won’t make you slim, but it certainly can counteract some of the negativity of prolonged sitting.

    Good-bye to exercise?

    Now does it mean, you can say good-bye to your regular exercise and just do the two minutes walk every hour? Obviously not, exercise is incredibly important for our health, sleep and most importantly for our brain.

    But exercise alone isn’t enough if you want to move the needle towards optimum health, including your brain health.

    While working out at least 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week is essential for a healthy body, focusing on frequent movement throughout the day is more important for your overall health, brain health and disease prevention.

    As you know, health isn’t just synonymous for being lean. It’s not about how you look in the mirror. It’s more about living a disease free life, having more energy in life to do things that are meaningful and important, being more productive and most importantly having a brain that can think straight, contemplate about the creations of Allah and focus well.

    I would even argue, your brain health is the be-all and end-all of your health. What else is the benefit of your “health”, if you can’t even think straight, contemplate or focus well? 


    If you want to learn how to eat, move and sleep for an abundant life – i.e. if you are interested in taking a holistic approach to transforming your health – here’s how to get started


    Your brain health is essential for everyday life such as making decisions, focusing, learning, memorising etc. Now, let’s see how movement and exercise help your brain to master your days effectively.

    How Movement Keeps Your Brain healthy

    To understand how movement keeps your brain healthy, you first need to understand what a hippocampus is. (Nope, it’s not the Hippo that lives in sub-Saharan Africa 🙂 )

    Hippocampus is a small organ located within the brain. One of its main functions has to do with memory and spatial navigation.

    In other words, to learn anything new, to remember the things you learned or even just to find your hotel in a new city, you need hippocampus’ help. The hippocampus’ true role is much more than I can mention in this short article. Its importance is so great, some scientists call the hippocampus as the “heart of the brain.”

    If you are interested to know how important hippocampus role is in your daily life, then watch this short video:

    So part of keeping your brain healthy is keeping your hippocampus healthy. But here is the problem: your hippocampus starts to shrink year by year starting by the age of 20. Already at 40 years, 20 per cent of the hippocampus will have dwindled.

    And that shrinking decreases hippocampus ability to function well. You can notice this mostly in people above 50 years old that they have some difficulty to learn a new thing, such as using a computer or smartphone.

    Are you doomed after 50?

    Now does it mean that we are all doomed after 50? Nope, not at all. There is one magic pill that can slow down the shrinking and keep your brain young and healthy for quite a long time. That is exercise, particularly, aerobic exercise.

    Did you say wow? I did that when I first came across all these research materials! It’s fascinating to know that you can become smarter, think better and achieve a healthy brain by just moving more daily.

    So go, move yourself to keep your brain smart and healthy!

    I’ll meet you in the second part of this article with much more “wow” things.

    Until then, I wish you “movement full” of days.

  • 7 Natural Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System

    Fall to winter season is for most people synonymous for cold and flu season. Why is this? Is there anything you can do to strengthen your immune system during this season? In this article, I provide seven ways to fortify your immune system naturally.

    These seven ways are easy to do, and almost anyone can practice for free. You don’t need to buy any of those expensive supplements to fortify your immune system. Try these “free” methods, and they are not only great for your health, but for your wallet too :-).

    Why are we more prone to get the flu in winter?


    Have you ever asked yourself, why you are more prone to get a cold or flu during winter? The National Institute of Child Health wanted to find exactly that in one of their studies.

    The researchers have found that “at winter temperatures, the virus’s outer covering, or envelope, hardens to a rubbery gel that could shield the virus as it passes from person to person. At warmer temperatures, however, the protective gel melts to a liquid phase. But this liquid phase apparently isn’t tough enough to protect the virus against the elements, and so the virus loses its ability to spread from person to person.”

    However, here is the good news. Allah subuhanawuta’la has programmed our body in a way that it can protect itself from many diseases caused by these viruses. To wage war against these viruses in the winter months, something amazing happens inside our body. Our genes change their genetic activities depending on the season. According to a research by the University of Cambridge, around one-fourth of the activity of our genes differ from summer to winter. These changes in the genetic activities help our immune system to step up its fight against these bad intruders! 

    However, for allowing our body to do its job to protect itself, we need to “assist” our body to realise the seasonal changes.

    What do I mean by “assist? Glad you asked that! You see, your body realises the seasonal changes by environmental cues such as daylight and ambient temperature. So for your body to know that it’s winter you got to spend some time outside so that it can feel the seasonal change and trigger the immune system to work for you.

    So this means, curling up inside your home (or at work) the whole day, you aren’t assisting your body in doing its job.

    The seven natural ways I recommend you are centred on the philosophy of “helping your body to cure itself”. So by following these seven ways, you are indeed helping your body first and foremost to sense the season and then you are providing the essential nutrients to strengthen your body’s immune system so that you can thrive in winter just like in summer, bi’idnillah

    #1. Exercise

    Ok, you probably know that exercise is good for you. As cliché as it may sound, regular exercise is as important as eating and drinking for a healthy body.

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

    I hope this article will change your notion. Now before I explain, how exercise is going to help you to strengthen your immune system, I want you to have a basic understanding of what a lymphatic system is.

    Your lymphatic system consists of a network of tissues and many different organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. So, one of the primary functions of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body.

    However, carrying many of these immune cells around your body relies heavily on the pumping action of your body movements. And that’s where the exercise and also deep breathing plays an important role.

    So your body movements help your lymphatic system to work effectively and thus to fortify your immune system.

    Simple walking, jogging, swimming, yoga or any other type of exercise would help you a lot to make your lymphatic system work.

    #2. Get some cold exposure

    Here is another simple but essential way to fortify your immune system: Go out for a walk in the cold!

    First and foremost, by getting out in the cold, you are indeed helping your body sense the season.

    Secondly, a simple walk in the cold helps you in many different ways to improve your immune system. The most important of all, you are helping your lymph system to work better, as I discussed earlier.

    Thirdly, by going out for a walk, you are getting the essential vitamin D, which is important especially in winter months. I’ve talked about it extensively in this blog post.

    But that’s not all. A study in 2014 found that daily brief cold stress can increase both the numbers and activity of cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells, who are responsible for killing foreign invaders.

    In other words, a simple short walk in the cold helps your immune system to work better.

    There is also another way of getting some cold exposure. That is by taking a contrast shower.

    Contrast shower is all about alternating hot and cold showers. While taking your shower, follow this simple technique:

    1. Stand for 2 minutes in warm water
    2. Switch your shower to 30 seconds of cold water
    3. Switch to 1 minute normal/moderate temperature

    Repeat the steps 2 to 3, three times.

    That’s it, with a simple contrast shower, you are helping your immune system work better.

    #3. Drink A lot of Water

    Water is critical for your overall health, that’s perhaps not news for you. I’ve already discussed it in one of my previous articles.

    When it comes to improving your immune system water becomes more important. Even a small percentage of drop in our ideal hydration level affects the immune system negatively.

    That’s why I recommend drinking at least eight glasses (around 2 litres) of water every day. If you aren’t fond of drinking much water, at least get some unsweetened warm tea.

    I love drinking mint and turmeric tea in winter months. Want to know my turmeric tea recipe? Get it here for free!

    The key is hydrating in winter. Drink a lot of unsweetened, natural fluid in whatever form you like.

    #4. Drink bone broth (chicken/meat soup)

    Now talking about hydration, soup in cold season is an excellent way of adding more hydration to our body.

    Ask your grandma, what she did when she caught a cold. Most probably, she made a chicken bone broth soup. And here is the thing, science now verifies this action as very “scientific”. Now a lot of scientific studies verify that chicken bone/meat bone broth soups are indeed great for health.

    Substances such as chondroitin sulfate found in bone broth are linked to both anti-inflammatories as well as immunoregulatory effects. Some other studies published in “The Journal of Neurochemistry” found that bone broth even plays a significant role in detoxifying at cellular levels.

    Bone broth contains an abundance of minerals, as well as over fifteen different amino acids and proteins like collagen, and gelatin. If prepared well, you can improve the nutritional content of bone broth and improve your health while enjoying the warm soup in cold days.

    Here is an easy recipe to prepare bone broth: Bone Broth Recipe

    #5. Eat Local Seasonal Foods

    Stanford University researchers discovered, even our microbes in the gut can change considerably with each season. So all these changes in genetic and microbial activities do affect our immune system, the composition of our blood and even the fat tissue.

    So what is happening is, our immune system is adapting to different seasonal variations. To support our immune system during these times, we need to include many seasonal foods.

    Seasonal vegetables, in particular, are a tremendous gift from Allah subuhanawuta’la as it helps to protect us against many diseases that are prone to spread at particular seasons. They also are helpful to our body in getting a heavenly mix of nutrients and plant chemicals that we need during the different seasons. Like in winter you need much more nutrients so that your immune system will be strong and ready to fight if needed.

    In winter, we are more likely to come down with the flu, so vitamins like A and C helps to strengthen our immune systems. And most vegetables that blossom in winter are full of such vital vitamins. Brussel sprouts don’t have a good rep, but, it being a winter vegetable, means it has twice as much vitamin C as an orange. Or a serving of kale gives you double the recommended amount of vitamins A and C.

    Whenever you can, snap up more seasonal vegetables than not, and remember, that Allah subuhanawuta’la knows exactly what is best for us and that is why He has given many things that we need, in the right place and the right time.

    Seasonal foods change from location to location. That’s why I always ask my clients to eat local and seasonal foods.

    And the best way to find them is from your local farmers market.


    Want to increase your essential nutrients intake and improve your immune system? Here is a quick and easy way:


    #6. Get Enough Sleep

    Just like food, the amount of sleep your body needs depends on the season.

    When the days are short, and nights are long, you naturally need more sleep. And again, there is a reason why you need more sleep during winter than summer.

    In cold winter days, your immune system needs to work hard fighting off the prevalent viruses around this time. So this means, you need to fortify your immune system to keep yourself healthy.

    And getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to fortify your immune system. Sleep not only affects whether or not you are getting sick, but it also affects how quickly you recover when you get sick.

    In a study reported by the Journal of Applied Physiology, scientists found that sleep helps wounds heal faster. People who slept normally healed in about 4.2 days. Those sleep-deprived test persons took about five days to heal.

    During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Cytokines are essentially traffic signals that pull more immune cells to the injured site. So as long as you sleep enough, your immune system can release enough cytokines to do the necessary recovery work. 

    However, when you are deprived of sleep, the production of your cytokines will be decreased, delaying your recovery from an infection, as well as leaving you more likely to get an infection.

    So sleep well to fortify your immune system. And how much sleep? Well, it depends on person to person, but most of us need a minimum of 7-8 hours daily.

    #7. Have some Halal fun and connect with people you love

    Ok, this is perhaps the easiest of all. I mean who doesn’t like to have fun and spend time with people they love, right?

    You may wonder, what having fun and connecting with people you love has to do with strengthening your immune system. Well, quite a lot.

    Having fun, laughing and connecting with your loved ones provide you with a lot of positive emotions and help to destress you from your daily stresses.

    You know that stress is bad for you. But here is the thing, it’s even worse for your immune system. When you’re stressed, your immune system’s ability to fight off infections becomes drastically reduced. Not only you are susceptible to infections and diseases, but also it takes longer to get cured when you are under stress.

    A study conducted at Indiana State University School of Nursing found that simple laughter can reduce stress and improve natural killer cell activity of your immune system.

    So there is much more to laughter than you can think of. Here is what I suggest for you do at least 15 minutes daily. Take some time to have some halal fun with those you love. And it’ll not only improve your immune system but will also improve your relationship.

  • How to Transform Your Marriage from “Meh” to “Wow!”

    Your marriage can be your gateway to paradise or hellfire. If it is a beautiful marriage, it can be a means of increasing your energy, productivity and happiness in this life. It can also be a means of salvation in the next world. On the flip side, a broken marriage is one of the biggest stressors on your life and it’s also the destroyer of your happiness and life in both worlds. In this article, I share nine qualities that can help you transform your marriage from “meh” (i.e.mediocre) to “wow!” (i.e. superb and successful), bi’idnillah!

    When coaching 100s of people around the world, I’ve found that people who are enjoying a healthy relationship with their spouse are better able to achieve their health and fitness goals. They also tend to lead a satisfied life. I think that’s because the satisfaction of their marriage motivates them to push beyond their comfort zone and try new things in life. Increased motivation along with a supporting partner facilitate them to achieve things that are usually seen as “impossible”.

    While a blissful marriage is a blessing for everyone around them, a broken marriage is a misery not only for the involved couples but also for the children and the people around them. So, a broken marriage can cause havoc not only in your relationship but also in every other area of your life.

    Or to be blunter: A happy married life is like a ladder that helps you to climb over the hurdles you face in your life. A broken marriage is like a big massive wall in your way. It’s a hurdle itself for all your happiness, achievement and success in both worlds.

    I sincerely hope that the nine qualities I share will be of great benefit for anyone who is looking to improve their marital life. These qualities I share in this article are based on Islamic teachings, the latest scientific research and things that I’ve implemented successfully in my own life. They’re advice that I’ve taught to many around me, alhamdulillah!

    Ok, before we continue, here is a little disclaimer: I’m a nutrition and exercise coach, not a marriage therapist or relationship coach. So, please don’t contact me for any of your marital issues. Instead, to help you with your marriage, turn to the books and resources I share at the end of this article.

    Nine qualities to transform your marriage from “meh” to “wow!”:

    1. Start by finding your “why”!

    If you know me well, then you know that I always talk about how important having a purpose is. If you want to change anything in life, the first step should be finding the purpose or the true “why.” Why do you want to transform your marriage in the first place? What do you want to achieve with this transformation?

    So, I suggest that you start with this question: “Why do I want to transform my marriage from “meh” to “wow!”?

    Knowing why you want to transform your marriage from mediocre to great is the first step towards a successful marriage.  To help you understand the process of finding your why, read this. This article explains to you how you can find your real why.

    Once you know your true why, it will motivate you to make your marriage a great success.

    I mean, if you aren’t willing to save your marriage and you aren’t truly committed to it, then nothing in the world is going to help you, right?

    So, start with finding your why and that’s pretty much the first step towards progressing to a marriage that leaves you saying “wow!”, bi’idnillah!

    2. Utilise your best weapon – Du’a

    With the why, you know which direction to go. However, this first step is pretty much useless if you don’t get the Divine assistance to attain the outcome that you seek.

    So, it’s time that you utilise your best weapon to implore Allah for help. Yep, I’m talking about the power of du’a.

    Allah subuhanawuta’ala says in the Qur’an:

    “When my servants ask you concerning me, (tell them) I am indeed close (to them). I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on me.” (Al-Quran, 2:186)

    It’s as if Allah is giving you a blank cheque and asking you to ask for anything that you want. And, of course, He promises that He’ll attend to it.

    Subhanallah, who else is better to help you than your own Creator?!

    If you are truly determined, and you are ready to put the work to make your marriage the most beautiful one, then Allah’s help isn’t far from you. So, beg to Him, because, for Him all matters are easy and all He has to say is “Kun” and it is!

    In Surah Furqan, Allah subuhanawuta’ala even teaches us how to make du’a for a successful marriage.

    And those who say, “Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes and make us an example for the righteous.” (Al-Quran, 25:74).

    Use this du’a from the Quran to help you formulate the right words to ask for what you need. And beg to Him with all of your heart believing that He will, indeed, respond.

    3. Provide unconditional love

    How can you happily spend a lifetime with a person, if you don’t cherish and love that person unconditionally?

    Loving unconditionally? Yep, what I’m saying is that you should love your spouse regardless of his/her flaws and mistakes. You love that person with all their imperfections.

    That may sound hard but think about your own flaws. Don’t you expect that your spouse loves you regardless of your mistakes?

    The reality is this: except for Prophet Muhammed (SAW), no human being is perfect and each and every one of us has our own shortcomings. So, if we were to love a person based on a condition, (“he or she should be like this” and “he or she shouldn’t be like that”) then you’ll never come across a person whom you can love.

    So, one of the most important qualities that helps you to transform your marriage is that you love your spouse unconditionally.

    That unconditional love should also reflect on your duties towards your spouse. Do your duties with ihsan (perfection) and don’t be too demanding of your own rights.

    On the Day of Judgment, Allah would ask each of you about your rights and obligations towards one another. And you want to make sure that you excel in your duties towards your spouse and that you are forgiving with the rights that are due to you. That’s certainly a safer position for your success in this world and in the Aakhira (Hereafter).

    Here are a few ways how you can excel in showing your love in words, emotions and in actions:

    1. Say I love you frequently, even if you had an argument just before. As I said, your love should be unconditional.
    2. Kiss your spouse often. Create 100s of opportunities to kiss. Has she or he just entered the house? Kiss. See him/her in the kitchen? Kiss. Here is a good exercise for you. Brainstorm and write down at least 5 opportunities you can use to kiss your spouse daily
    3. Give a lot of compliments. Say things like,“Wow, you look great in this dress” and “masha Allah, you’ve cooked an excellent dinner”,
    4. Spend a lot of time in very fulfilling and beautiful intimacy. Though this subject is rarely discussed in Islamic circles, lack of intimacy is one of the leading causes of marriages falling apart.

    As a married couple, you need to frankly talk about this issue. You need to inform your partner about your likes and dislikes in intimacy.

    In the Quran, Allah says, “… your wives are your garments, and you are their garments” (Al-Quran; 2:187). So, part of being his/her “garment” is also to protect his/her chastity by giving them the ultimate satisfying sex life in your marriage.

    4. Consider your in-laws as your family

    How can you truly love your spouse, if you don’t even love and respect the persons who brought your spouse to this world? I mean there is a reason why we call them “parents-in-law”. They have almost the same rights and duties as your biological parents and these rights and duties are now given to them by the legal pact of marriage.

    So, part of loving your spouse is also loving his/her family.

    Abuse or disrespect towards in-laws is one of the biggest reasons for a broken marriage. If your relationship with your in-laws is sound, your marriage will be sound; otherwise, it may look like sound from outside, but it’s NEVER really sound!

    When you fix your relationship with your parents in law, you’ll most probably fix your relationship with your spouse. That’s what I call killing two birds with one stone!

    5. Connect through unconditional service

    The more connected you are towards your spouse, the better your relationship becomes. But you might be wondering what I mean by “connecting”.

    Connecting is finding ways to help your spouse whenever possible. Every act of service counts.

    And what’s most important is, that you don’t categorise the chores at home or the errands outside home as “mine” or “his/hers”.

    Being the bread-winners of the family, most men have this strong belief that they don’t need to help their wives, since their responsibility is to earn money. They believe everything else should be taken care of his wife.

    But this is totally against the Sunnah.

    When asked what did the Prophet (SAW) used to do in his house, Aisha, (RA) replied, “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer he would go for it” (Al-Bukhari).

    This sunnah helps men to strengthen their romance life too.

    In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman says it beautifully:

     “…romance is strengthened in the supermarket aisle when your partner asks, ‘Are we out of butter?’ and you answer, ‘I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case,’ instead of shrugging apathetically.”

    6. Showing Gratitude 

    John Gottman, the man that I mentioned before, is a psychologist, scientist and an expert in marital relations. In the book I mentioned earlier, he says that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative affect (5:1 or greater), it is likely that their marriage will end.

    He gives us a simple way to increase this positivity ratio. According to him, the best way to boost your positivity ratio is to practice gratitude in your marriage.

    Showing gratitude is basically thanking your spouse for every little help and favour they do. That’s it.

    In a separate article, I’ve discussed in detail how to practice gratitude towards your spouse. It’s one of the most read articles. So make sure to read it.

    But the most important thing to remember is this: Prophet Muhammed (SAW) said, “He who does not thank people, does not thank Allah” (Ahmad)

    7. Spend a lot of quality time with your spouse

    The greatest gift you can give to your spouse is your own mindful presence, i.e. you give your full attention without any distractions. Yeah, that means you PUT DOWN YOUR SMARTPHONE and engage with your loved ones.

    So, what do you do in your quality time? If you have nothing to say or do, at least just hold your spouse hands. According to the latest research from the University of Gothenburg, “long-lasting gentle touch decreases stress hormones and decelerate heartbeat frequency. It also activates brain areas commonly linked to reward

    John Gottman, the renowned psychologist from the University of Gothenburg further elaborates in his book, how spending time with your spouse will both save your marriage and health:

    “I often think that if fitness buffs spent just 10 per cent of their weekly workout time—say, twenty minutes a day—working on their marriage instead of their bodies, they would get three times the health benefits they derive from exercise class or the treadmill.”

    8. Be the first to say “sorry”

    Happy marriages aren’t devoid of problems or arguments, but what makes these marriages different from the rest is that couples in these marriages don’t linger on the arguments or problems that they have.

    So, if you have an argument with your spouse and regardless of who initiated the argument, be the first to say sorry.

    The simple sorry will diffuse the tension and will help you to garner the respect of your spouse, insha Allah.

    Moreover, the forgiving of your spouse is a means for you to receive forgiveness from Allah subuhanawuta’la. Allah says “. . . and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Al-Quran, 24:22)

    9. Save your best treatment for your spouse

    “The most complete of the believers in faith, is the one with the best character. And the best of you are those who are best to their women.” (At-Tirmidhi and authenticated by Al-Albani)

    “The best of you is the one who is best to his family, and I am the best of you to my family.” (At-Tirmidhi and authenticated by Al-Albani)

    There is so much wisdom behind these narrations. One of the most important aspects to understand is that it’s easy to be the best to everyone outside your home. That’s because they are oblivious of most of your weaknesses and flaws. All they see is the well-dressed and well-mannered person in front of them.

    However, at home the story is different. You family knows everything about you and your flaws. For you to be recognised as the best to your family by your own family members, despite your imperfections, is indeed one of the greatest of achievements.

    So, trying to claim the title “the best to your family” is truly an uphill battle. You seriously need to work on many fronts to achieve that state. But it’s a struggle that’s really worth it. Not only it will grant you joy, happiness and contentment in this world, but it will also be very heavy on your scale on the Day of Judgement.

    Here are a few ways how you can start implementing this aspect into your life:

    • Treat your spouse, as if you would treat a noble guest at home. Just as you wouldn’t shout at your noble guest and would always present your best side, treat your spouse likewise.
    • Dress up beautifully for your spouse. No one deserves to admire your beauty more than your spouse does. You should impress your spouse not only through your character but also through your appearance. In this, we have beautiful examples from our salaf. It has been narrated, that Ibn Abbas (RA) used to beautify himself every time before entering his house. In response to those who laughed at him, he replied: “I like toembellish myself for my wife, just as I like her to beautify for me”.
    • Choose compliments over criticism. Whenever you find positive behaviours of your spouse, compliment them. Never criticise your spouse. Criticism never helps to improve your relationship.

    Final Words

    No article, book or therapists can solve all your marital problems immediately. But by incorporating these nine qualities in your marriage, you can change the course of your relationship, bi’idnillah! Sometimes a small change can bring huge benefits over time.

    So, here’s what I suggest. Among these nine qualities, choose the two easiest ones and try to implement in your life for the next two weeks. Remember to be as consistent as possible.

    You’ll, insha Allah, notice tiny improvements in your relationship. Then choose another quality and practice it for another 2-3 weeks. Over time you’ll be able to practice all these nine qualities with ease and then you’ll realise how much your relationship has improved.

    If you are committed and ready to put the work, you’ll see improvements down the road.

    Resources

    I hope the following resources will be of great benefit for you.

  • 10 Scientific Reasons Why Water is Absolutely Essential for Your Well-being

    There’s no doubt that drinking water’s important, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself why water’s so essential to your health? This article will unravel 10 reasons why you should be drinking water for a fit and lean body. Learn why all the fitness experts and skincare gurus tout the benefits of water for your health and body.

    We’ve all seen these people; you know, the ones that carry a gallon of water with them everywhere they go. But did you ever ask yourself why these so-called fitness gurus and skincare experts are just so obsessed with this liquid?

    Well… let’s first start with the big picture.

    Did you know that water was one of the first things that Allah (SWT) created? Allah says in the Quran:

    Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe? (Al-Quran, 21:30)

    After 1400 years, science confirms this Quranic ayah (verse), which means that water is essential to your being.

    As an adult, your body is composed of, close to, 60-70 per cent water. Your brains, lungs, heart, liver and kidney contain between 65-85 per cent water.

    What this composition of our bodies suggests is that water is so essential to our function that even just a just a 5 per cent drop in our body’s fluid levels can lead to a 25 to 35 per cent drop in energy levels.

    But that’s just the half of the story. For example, your body has a limit to the percentage of dehydration that it can tolerate, and when your body passes this mark, you start to even damage your DNA! So, not drinking enough water is a big blow to your body.

    And I’m here to tell you why. In this article, I give you 10 reasons why water is absolutely crucial for your wellbeing—physically and mentally.

    #1: Your entire health depends on water

    Your blood is over 90 per cent water. You might be thinking, “So what?”

    Your blood system is used to transfer oxygen, nutrients and antibodies to each and every cell. If there is less water available for your blood system, you are basically stripping your system’s ability to do its job well.

    It won’t matter how healthy you eat because if you don’t drink enough water, your eating won’t help your cells function effectively.

    That’s because mitochondria, the energy power plants of your cells, need water to keep you energised. Whenever you are dehydrated, your energy plummets (#RamadanLethargy).

    Hence, the quickest and easiest way to increase your energy is by drinking water!

    #2: Removal of waste materials

    Your cells produce a lot of waste. Just like you poo and pee to relieve your body’s waste, your cells also need to ‘relieve’ this waste, and that’s why there is a cellular waste management system in your body to help with this excretion. Like the garbage trucks that clear away the streets, your lymphatic fluid is responsible for the removal of the waste products from your cells.

    If your lymph fluid is too thin because you’re dehydrated, you’re just going to start to build up all of these metabolic waste products, aka toxins. When these waste products aren’t channelled out of your body properly, you are basically asking for a lot of trouble, such as the DNA damage I mentioned previously.

    #3. Your digestion depends on water

    Have your ever-experienced constipation? Most people get constipated because they aren’t drinking enough water.

    Along with fibre, water is essential for good digestion. Water helps dissolve waste particles and pass them smoothly through your digestive tract.

    If you’re dehydrated, your body absorbs all the water, leaving your bowel movements dry and more difficult to pass.

    So, the simple trick to “push down” the waste products is to drink more water!

    #4: Water regulates your body temperature

    Allah (SWT) created a built-in thermostat in your body. This does an amazing job of regulating your body temperature by warming up or cooling down your body. But in order for this “thermostat” to work, you need to drink plenty of water.

    By drinking water, your body naturally regulates its own temperature.

    #5: Water helps you to stay slim

    Here is the thing, even being mildly dehydrated can slow down your metabolism by as much as 3%! In other words, being hydrated is critical to your ability to burn fat!

    So, just by drinking more water, you’re helping to pump up your metabolism — especially if your water is cold (somewhere 20-220 Celsius). This is because your body must work to warm the water up, thereby burning a few extra calories in the process.

    #6: Nourish your skin with water

    Most women spend hundreds of dollars on beauty creams to look better. The key to great skin? Drink plenty of water because water is nature’s own beauty cream.

    Fine lines and wrinkles are deeper when you’re dehydrated. Drinking water hydrates skin cells and plumps them up, making your face look younger.

    It also flushes out impurities and improves circulation and blood flow, leaving your face clean, clear and glowing.

    #7: Lower your stress with water

    85 per cent of your brain tissue is water. If you’re dehydrated, both your body and your mind will be stressed. If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already a little dehydrated.

    To keep stress levels down, keep a glass of water at your desk or carry a sports bottle and sip regularly.

    #8: Water is your natural lubricant

    Just like machines need lubricants to work smoothly, your body also needs to be lubricated. The best lubricant for your body is water because it allows the smooth movement of your joints.

    Not just your joints, but water is essential for the proper function of your spinal cord, spinal disks, eyes, and brain.

    Did you know that about 70 – 80 per cent of your joint cartilage is made of water? So, when you’re well-hydrated, your joints work better and you can move easily.

    Conversely, dehydration leads to degeneration of your cartilages and severe pain in your joints.

    #9: Water improves your workout performance

    Do you experience cramps in your muscles when you’re working out? If you do, then you might want to see if you’re staying hydrated. Drinking water helps prevent muscle cramping and, as I mentioned before, lubricates joints in the body.

    When you’re well hydrated, you can exercise longer and stronger without “hitting the wall.” In other words, drinking water while working out is a great way of improving your performance.

    #10: Water improves your focus and cognitive functions

    Another benefit of drinking water is that it helps you with the ability to stay focused and with your ability to think and remember information.

    In a study, researchers found that being dehydrated by just 2% impairs performance in tasks that require memory, focus and other cognitive functions. However, by staying hydrated, researchers found that their subjects were more likely to perform better on work that was mentally strenuous.

    How Much Water Should You Drink?

    This is one of the most frequently asked questions in health forums, and you certainly have heard the reply that one should aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

    The fact is, there is no consensus among scientist about the average amount of water one needs daily. Yep, this 8-glasses theory is not necessarily science based. This is because the amount of water one needs differs on many different factors, like your size, where you live, how much exercise you do, what you eat and how much you eat.

    Having said that, 8-glasses a day seems to be a reasonable and safe recommendation. So, if you can stick to it, you surely can’t go wrong.

    You may need less than eight glasses of water if you drink other unsweetened no-calorie beverages such as green tea or black tea. And you may need more than eight glasses of water if you sweat a lot, exercise and/or do a lot of manual labour!

    In most western countries, the water from the tap is much better than the water from supermarket bottles. So, save your money and start using the water from the tap. If you are in doubt, boil the water before drinking or, even better, buy a water filter.

    Here are some other great tips:

    • Start your day with two glasses of water. This is one of the best things you could do for your health!
    • Drink at least one glass of water 30 min. before your meal. You’ll not only be less hungry, but you’ll also fulfil the Sunnah of eating, which is having your meal consist of 1/3 water, 1/3 food, and 1/3 air (Saheeh, ibn Maajah).

    Drinking a glass of water will not automatically transform your body into a lean and healthy one, but it, no doubt, bring you closer to your goal.

  • 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.

  • How The Food You Eat Affects Your Spirituality

    Your spiritual life has different dynamics. The ups and downs of your spiritual life depend a great deal on many things in life. In this article, we’ll explore how even the food you eat can affect your spirituality and what you can do about it.

    How often you had the best intention to pray with khushoo (humility in prayer), yet only noticed at the end of Salah that you weren’t focused at all?

    How often were you determined not to glare at the opposite gender and did end up doing precisely that?

    As you may have noticed, your conscious connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala, (your spirituality) rises and falls. Many factors affect the ups and downs of your spirituality, such as your sins, lack of ‘ibadah, bad companions etc.

    In this article, I want to make my case that even the food you eat affects your overall spirituality. As a nutrition and exercise coach, I know this to be true because I coach Muslim clients in over 30 countries around the world to improve their health and to get into the best shape of their lives.

    Whenever my clients improve their food choices, they report to me how even their connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala improves dramatically.

    Now, to understand how food affects your spirituality, you first need to know how the rest of your body interconnects with your spirituality.

    Come, let’s jump in!

    Holistic View of Health

    If I were to meet you in person and inquire you about your health, you might say that you are healthy, because your body is currently free from any diseases. That’s great, Alhamdulillah, but it’s a very narrow definition of health.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This statement is true. However, our religion takes a much broader and a more holistic approach to defining health.

    The Islamic definition of health isn’t just related to our physical, mental and social well-being; instead, it also includes our emotional and spiritual well-being too. And these two factors tend to be neglected in discussions and definitions of health. However, our real long-term health heavily depends on such a holistic view, because the synergy of these elements of health helps us to create an optimal life, bi’idnillah!

    Now, here is what you need to know. You are a highly sophisticated creation of Allah subuhanawuta’ala. Your body, mind, emotions and spirituality are all interconnected. Anything that affects your mind affects your body too.

    For instance, when you neglect the health of your body and get sick, it takes a toll on your spirituality too. Don’t you notice, how even a slight headache makes it challenging to focus in your ‘ibadah?

    Protecting Your Intellect

    One of the aims and purposes of our Sharia is to protect our intellect. Whatever negatively affects the mind is thus prohibited in Islam.

    That’s why Quran and Sunnah prohibit specific food and drink for us, such as alcohol, drugs, blood, the flesh of swine etc., because these foods not only harm our body, they harm our mind also and thus our spirituality too.

    While the list of prohibited (haram) foods is very clear to us, there are also foods that are in fact allowed (halal) but not necessarily good for our body, mind or spirituality.

    As Muslims, we always look for foods that are halal, but sometimes we forget to ask whether or not it’s good for us. However, the commandment of Allah subuhanawuta’ala is explicit:

    “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Shaytān. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.”  (Al-Quran 2:168)

    Lawful and Good Foods

    So, note the emphasis on “lawful and good”. Whatever you eat should be not only halal but also good. Islam encourages us to eat foods that are rich with the ‘good stuff’; vitamins, nutrients, etc. And it discourages us to eat food that has elements of harm to our body and mind.

    Generally speaking, foods that are least processed and closest to its natural state are good foods. I call them “green foods”. These are so-called whole foods or real foods, such as

    • vegetables,
    • fruits,
    • meat, fish
    • grains and legumes
    • nuts and seeds etc.

    So strive as much as you can to include “green foods” in your diet.

    Also, work to reduce the consumption of highly processed and refined foods that come from factories and labs. I call them “red foods”.

    Most of these foods are pretty easy to identify. Here are few guidelines to remember:

    • They come in fancy packages
    • Most of these foods come with glorious health claims on the package (“good for your heart”, “low-fat”, “high in fibre”, “100% natural”)
    • These foods are in fact produced in factories and labs, not in farms
    • They have a long list of ingredients

    In my 7-day free course, I talk about these foods in more detail. If you are interested, you can sign up here for free.

    How These Foods Affect Your Spirituality

    Though there are many mechanisms how the food you eat can affect your body, mind and spirituality, I regard the following three as the most crucial ones:

    #1. Energy

    Your spirituality can be significantly affected by the level of your energy. In fact, the lack of energy is one of the reasons for you to abandon good deeds or to engage in any beneficial things.

    When you are tired and have low energy, try doing anything meaningful. You’ll soon notice how difficult it is to focus on anything meaningful.

    That’s because your brain needs glucose (a form of energy) to think and focus. When you run low on energy, focusing is the last thing your brain wants to do.

    Maintaining a constant level of energy provides you with the focus you need. Here comes the role of those “green foods”. Not only do they give the endless energy you need but they provide nutrients to improve your overall health.

    A chocolate bar or a sugar-laden beverage does give you much-needed energy, but it’s only for a short period. Such an energy spike is promptly followed by a crash that leaves you feeling more depleted of energy, so it’s not a good long-term strategy to maintain your energy level.

    #2. Optimism

    You wonder what has optimism to do with your spirituality? A lot.

    First and foremost, being optimistic is, indeed, a prophetic Sunnah. Abu Hurayrah (RA) said that the Messenger of Allah liked optimism and detested pessimism. (Musnad Ahmad).

    There are so many other examples from the Quran and Sunnah that stresses the importance of being optimistic. I think the following two are indeed relevant to our topic.

    The Prophet (PBUH) told us that Allah says: ‘I am as My servant thinks of Me…’ (Sahih al-Bukhari). In another hadith, ‘None of [us] should die except while assuming the best about Allah’ (Sahih Muslim).

    Al-Hasan al-Basri rahimahullah explained this hadith in a very succinct manner; he said: “The believer assumes the best about his Lord, so he does the best deeds. The sinner assumes the worst about his Lord, so he does evil deeds.”

    So positive thoughts about your Lord leads you to positive actions and thus impacts your spirituality positively. And negative thoughts about your Lord leads you towards negative actions and that in turn affects your spirituality negatively.

    And here comes the role of foods again. For you to keep your thoughts positive, your diet does play a humongous role.

    Among many research studies, the study that was published in the American Journal of Psychology really caught my attention. The researchers wanted to find out whether depression and anxiety have any association with the food people eat. So they compared the traditional diet with the western diet, which is a diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products etc. (a diet that consists mostly of those “red foods”).

    The result was astounding. A “traditional” dietary pattern characterised by vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains (a diet that consists mostly of “green foods”) was associated with lower odds for major depression or dysthymia and anxiety disorders.

    So the food you eat affects your thoughts and in turn, affects your spirituality.

    #3. Sleep

    In the past, whenever I was pressed for time, the very first thing I used to do was cut my sleep. I thought it was the most logical thing to do to increase my productivity.

    But I was wrong! Every time I cut my sleeping hours, I felt more irritated and had a hard time focusing on anything meaningful. So while I had more hours to work, I got less useful things done. I was feeling miserable and least productive.

    You see, getting not enough sleep is not only a bad idea, but it is also a sure-fire way to increase your risk of many serious health problems, including jeopardising your mental and spiritual health.

    Research studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep impacts our memory and learning ability negatively. Those who had less than 7 hours of sleep recalled more negative things than positive ones during the day.  And that’s scary because this is correlated with depression. Depressed people remember negative things more frequently.

    So getting adequate sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy, meaningful and productive life. The Quran and the Sunnah highlight the importance of sufficient sleep in many places:

    “And we made your sleep as a thing for rest” (Al-Quran, 78.9)

    The Prophet (PBUH) told one of his companions who was praying the whole night “Offer prayers and also sleep at night, as your body has a right on you” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

    The food we eat plays a vital role in determining the quality and quantity of our sleep. Here are few food-related things you can do to improve your sleep:

    • Eat at least 2 hours before your bedtime. A small snack before bed is ok, but not a large meal.
    • Avoid fatty, fried, or spicy foods just before your bedtime. They are known to disrupt your sleep
    • Avoid caffeine (that is found in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate etc.) after 2 PM.
    • Quit smoking. Research studies link nicotine with insomnia.

    So the takeaway message is this: Getting adequate sleep at night helps you to improve your mood, productivity, health and overall well-being. And maintaining that balance is crucial to enhancing your connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala.

    How Much You Eat Trumps What You Eat

    Listen, here is a little secret :-). Overindulging in good foods isn’t a good strategy to improving your relationship with Allah. The quantity of food is as important as the quality of food.

    In a hadith, narrated in At-Tirmidhi, Prophet (PBUH) said, “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is enough for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls to keep him going, but if he must (fill his stomach), then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for air.”

    In Zaad Al-Maad, Imam ibn al-Qayyim gave a beautiful commentary on this hadith. He said:

    “This is one of the most beneficial practices in both physical and spiritual terms because if the stomach is filled with food, there is no room for a drink. Then if that food is followed by a drink, there will be no room for air, and he will become tired like one who carries a heavy load.

    This is in addition to what results from that of spiritual damage, as it will make one too lazy to do acts of worship, and it will stir up physical desires as a result of eating one’s fill. Therefore filling the stomach with food is harmful in both spiritual and physical terms.”

    Healthy Eating Enhances Your Spirituality

    For you to improve your connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala, you want to make it really easy to do the good things and really hard to do the bad things. That’s easier said than done, but from my experience and the experience of many of my clients, this is what I know:

    When you eat healthily and eat only until you are slightly full, your mood, your energy, your thinking pattern and even your sleep improves. And all these improvements help you to enhance your spirituality.

    So here is what I ask you to do. Try to eat as healthily as possible for next two weeks and see whether or not you notice these changes in your life.

    If you need help to eat healthily, I’ve created a free 7-day course for you. Even if you don’t have any weight to lose, this course will help you to improve your health and overall well-being.

    Want to be on board?

    (This is a guest post I’ve written for https://quranacademy.io and reposting it for my readers)

  • 6 Healthy Alternatives to Table Sugar

    It’s no surprise that sugar isn’t good for you. But this doesn’t stop you from succumbing to sugar’s charm and losing your willpower. In this article, I provide you with six healthy alternatives to sugar so that you can still satisfy your sweet tooth. Get all the benefits while avoiding table sugar.

    “Coffee without sugar?!” A few years back, I scorned the idea that one can drink coffee without sugar or milk.

    Fast forward to today, I really can’t understand how people can drink coffee with sugar :-).

    You see, when your habits change, so does your perspectives!

    In my previous article, I discussed the dangers of table sugar and asked you to minimise your intake of this substance. Today, I want to present you with some healthy alternatives to sugar. Yep, it’s not always about saying “no.” Here’s when you can say “yes!”

    Raw Honey

    Raw honey is perhaps one of the most accessible sugar alternatives out there.

    It’s is one of the oldest sweeteners in the world and packed with enzymes, antioxidants, minerals and many other essential vitamins.

    Raw honey has been used as a healing agent in natural medicine. It’s also used as in the Islamic tradition. Both the Quran and the Sunnah refer to honey as a healer of disease.

    In Surah Nahl (the Bees), Allah subuhanawuta’la refers to honey as a “healer.” He says, “…There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colours, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.” (Al-Quran 16:69

    And our beloved Prophet (SAW) referred it as a remedy for “every illness”.

    “Honey is a remedy for every illness, and the Qur’an is a remedy for all illness of the mind. Therefore I recommend to you both remedies, the Qur’an and honey.” (Sahih Bukhari)

    Now, it’s important to note that all these benefits of honey are from raw honey, not from the heated and filtered honey you get from your supermarket. So, if you really want to use honey as a “healer”, you need to look for honey that is unheated and unpasteurized.

    Here is a little caveat: 1 tablespoon of honey has roughly the same amount of calories as one tablespoon of sugar. While honey offers some health benefits, it’s still sugar and should be used sparingly. So as usual, moderation is key!

    How to Substitute Honey With Sugar
    • Honey is sweeter than sugar. So for every spoon of sugar, substitute half a spoon of honey.
    • Want to substitute sugar in your baked goods? Swap a cup of sugar with a half a cup of honey.
    • Here is a great article that details how to swap honey for sugar in baked goods.

    Dates

    When it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth, dates are a great substitute for refined sugar. They are versatile and can be used to replace table sugar in many ways.

    The Quran mentions about dates in around 22 verses. And in most verses, the dates are described as worldly blessings. For example, Allah says, “Therein is fruit and date palms, producing spathes (enclosing dates),” (Al-Quran, 55:11).

    Now this “blessing” is one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world. They are full of fibre, potassium, iron and many other essential minerals and vitamins.

    How to Substitute Dates With Sugar
    • If you are into baking, you can substitute one cup of regular sugar with two-thirds of a cup of date paste.
    • You can quickly make dates paste by blending 1 cup of seedless dates with ½ cup hot water in a food processor.
    • You can use dates paste for muffins, cakes and even for your pancakes.

    Just like honey, dates are also high in calories. So if you want to lose weight, it may be wise to reduce your consumption of dates.

    Cinnamon

    I love cinnamon. I frequently add a few dashes of cinnamon to my coffee, tea or even my morning shake.

    It does indeed give you a lovely flavour. Trust me on this; the taste of cinnamon is enough for you to replace the sugar or any other artificial sweeteners in your tea or coffee.

    Here is how to do it: Add ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder to your tea or coffee. Though it’s virtually calorie free, too much of it can be toxic. Stick to no more than a teaspoon a day.

    There are two types of cinnamon in the market. The true cinnamon, also known as Ceylon Cinnamon (from Sri Lanka) seems to be better and less toxic. So whenever possible, choose the cinnamon powder that comes from Sri Lanka.

    Stevia

    Stevia is a zero calorie natural sweetener that is extracted from the leaves of stevia, a plant widely found in South America.

    Native South Americans have been using this calorie-free sweetener for more than 1500 years.

    Due to its zero calories and zero sugar appeal, it has gained immense popularity among health and fitness enthusiasts.

    Unlike many artificial sweeteners you find in the market, stevia is safe to consume, and there have been many recent studies claiming its safety 1 2.

    How to Substitute Stevia With Sugar
    • You can use stevia powder or liquid both for your coffee and tea.
    • Stevia is excellent for baking goods too.
    • Since stevia is sweeter than sugar, you need less of it to sweeten your drink or food than sugar. Use it according to what the packet instructs.
    • Here are few of my recommendations: Organic Stevia Powder, SweetLeaf Stevia

    Banana Puree

    Puree from overripe bananas is an excellent substitute for refined sugar in baking recipes. For most recipes, you can use 1 cup of pureed banana for every cup of sugar.

    You get 1 cup of puree from three bananas by blending them with 1-2 tablespoon of water in a food processor.

    Banana is also excellent to sweeten your smoothies or shakes. The bonus of adding a banana to your smoothie is that it also gives a nice texture to your smoothie.

    Applesauce

    Applesauce is another excellent sugar substitute for many baking goods.

    Instead of a cup of white sugar in bread, muffins, and brownies, swap in an equal amount of applesauce!

    Purchase the no-sugar-added kind, or make some at home.

    Take Away Message

    As I’ve mentioned in my previous article, eating too much sugar has been linked to several diseases and health issues.

    So, swapping any of these alternatives with sugar is undoubtedly a wise move. However, these substitutes aren’t to be indulged without limits. As with most things in life, you’ve got to apply moderation when enjoying them.

    I think moderation is perhaps one of the most neglected Sunnahs of our beloved Prophet (SAW). And it’s time we revive it.

  • How to Get Rid of Pesticides from Your Food

    Colourful, healthy, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables are the first choice of food for many healthy living enthusiasts. While that’s certainly a great start towards healthy living, the pesticides that are found in these foods is a great concern for many. In today’s article, I discuss how to get rid of these dangerous pesticides from your food to enhance your health.

    What Are Pesticides?

    A pesticide is a substance that kills, repels or mitigates insects or other organisms harmful to cultivating plants or animals. Pesticides also include disinfectants, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.

    Pesticides are widely used in conventional agricultural production to prevent or reduce losses by pests. This, in turn, improves yield as well as the quality of the produce. Its use is also important for the plant’s cosmetic appeal, which is often a decisive factor for the consumers to buy these foods. That’s right. The way that produce looks matters to some.

    Another important point to keep in mind is that the use of pesticides also safeguards food-security for billions of people around the world.

    With all its glory, there is a major downside to the use of pesticides. The most pressing issues are their negative impact on our health as well as our environment.

    Pesticides Impact on Our Health

    When we consume conventionally produced food, we’re exposed to pesticides. To be fair though, in the transition time from the farm to the fork, the levels of pesticides do shrink thereby making it unclear how this reduced level of pesticide residue affects our health.

    This is because the risk assessment of the impact of pesticides either on human health or on the environment is not an easy and particularly accurate process. From weather to soil to the toxicity or dosage of pesticides, there are way too many factors that influence this process.

    Nevertheless, we do have research studies that analyse the health of farmers who are frequently exposed to pesticides. These farmers are subjected to many diseases, including insomnia, headaches and many neurological symptoms. Among these farmers, there is also a 70% increase in Parkinson’s disease and up to 200% increased risk of developing diabetes.

    While it’s unclear how each and every type and levels of pesticide affects our health, we know based on this study from the Punjab Agricultural University of India that excessive pesticide residues “may cause blindness, cancer, diseases of liver and nervous system etc. The long term effects could result in reduction of live sperm and fertility, increase in cholesterol levels, high infant mortality rates and several metabolic and genetic disorders.”

    And other studies do confirm that exposure to many chemicals, including pesticides, increases our risk of many chronic diseases. From cancer to Parkinson’s disease to type-2 diabetes, the list really is too long. In most countries, the exposure to pesticide has been ranked among the top three environmental cancer risks.

    So, given this and other studies, it’s indeed wise to reduce the intake of chemicals and pesticides through our diet. The less we are exposed to it, the better it is. That’s something we know for sure from the research!

    Enjoying a Pesticide-free Diet

    Ok, this sub-heading is a bit misleading and a typical “internet sensationalism title” :-). Now, why do I say, it’s a misleading sub-heading? Because you may not be able to eat a diet that is 100% free from pesticides. Even organically grown foods have pesticides, but most of them are very low and the pesticides used in organic produce are less harmful.

    Given these facts (and you know that I love facts as a health coach), let’s see how we can reduce exposure to pesticides whenever we choose to eat fruits and vegetables. Here are three particular ways to do reduce the pesticides residue in your food.

    #1. Wash and peel all fruits and vegetables

    Yep, it’s an easy, simple and effective way to reduce pesticides residue in your produce.

    Here are two scientific reasons why they are so effective:

    1. A lot of the pesticides that are used on the produce are water-soluble and will come off with water. Research show just a minute washing of okra removed the pesticides residue to the extent that only traces were detected on washed okra. Another study showed that cold water washing removed 96% malathion – an insecticide residue from beans.
    2. Most of the pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables are retained on the peel. In fact, very little quantity of systemic pesticides may be absorbed into the flesh of these produces.

    So, here is a two-step process to do it:

    1. Wash and scrub the produce (organic or conventional) for at least 30-40 seconds with running water. The longer you wash, the better. It’s not recommended to soak or dunk the produce in the water.
    2. In conventionally grown produce, peel off the skin in fruits and discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce.

    Just following this simple process helps you to reduce the level of pesticides residue tremendously.

    Other than the wash and peel method, there are few more methods such as washing the fruit and vegetables with salt water solution, using vinegar, baking soda or even ready made sprays on the market to reduce the residue. However, the process I’ve shown you is the most scientific, cost-effective, time efficient and simple way out there.

    On top of washing and peeling, cooking also helps to reduce the residue level. A study on cauliflower shows that washing alone reduced the levels of pesticide residue by approximately 25–80%, whereas the washing and cooking of cauliflower curds reduced the level of residues by 52–91%.

    #2. Choose organically grown fresh foods

    Organically grown, local, seasonal fresh foods are the best type of foods to eat for an optimal health. However, it may be not always possible or affordable for most people.

    Environmental Working Group, a US based NGO has created a list of a dozen fruits and vegetables that are consistently found to have the highest pesticide residues. So, whenever possible, buy an organic variety of these produces:

    Strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes.

    For an updated list and for more details, you can check the “Dirty Dozen” list here.

    #3. Grow your own garden

    This may be not an option for everyone, but if you have the space to do, it’s certainly a worthwhile goal to pursue. This is the sure-fire way to know that what you eat is almost 100% pesticide free.

    There is an important part to gardening that no one talks about. That is, gardening also help you to establish a healthy relationship with the food you eat.

    How to Reduce Pesticides Exposure in Other Foods

    1. Meat and poultry: Pesticides, chemicals and other toxins are mainly concentrated in the fat component. So, when eating meat or poultry of any sort, trim the fat off.
    2. Fish: Buy wild-caught fish. Avoid fish that are farmed in aquaculture. Studies show that accumulation of pesticides in farmed fish in aquaculture may be 10 to 10,000 times greater than their original concentrations in water.
    3. Dairy products: Pesticides residue may be found in greater concentration in milk products such as butter, cheese, and ghee than milk. So it’s better to look for organic products when buying dairy products.

    Final Thoughts

    Now here is an important message to keep in mind. The health benefits of healthy eating that include eating fruits, vegetables, fish, dairy and meat outweigh the possible presence of pesticides in these foods. So, even if you can’t afford the organic variety, make sure to eat a healthy diet and implement the simple strategies I’ve shown when preparing your food.

    As a Nutrition and Exercise coach, I’m very particular about what I eat. And my case for eating pesticide free food isn’t just health related; it has an element of spirituality too. That’s because of the following Quranic Ayah:

    “O you People! Eat of what is on earth, Halal and pure, and do not follow the footsteps of the Satan; Indeed for he is to you an open enemy” (2:168)

    And by committing to eat healthy food that are also pesticide free, I’m not only eating halal, but also pure food that boosts my health. I follow the commandment of my Creator and hope to get rewarded for that.

    So eating pesticide free food is certainly a triple win, a win for your health, a win for your spirituality and a win for the environment!

  • Everything You Need to Know About Belly Fat and Its Dangers

    If you’ve ever tried to get rid of belly fat, you know how difficult it can be! This article will help you understand why you should be concerned about belly fat and how you can get rid of it.

    We’ve all heard of a “muffin-top”–the fat around your midsection that makes up the dreaded love handles. This fat, along with other fat found in the midsection stands in the way of your dreams to get the chiselled and toned abs that you’ve always wanted.

    But fat around your midsection is not only aesthetically unappealing, but it’s also something that can cause you major health issues. In order to understand belly fat, we’ve first got to understand the role of the two type types of fat we have.

    All Body Fat Isn’t Created Equal

    You’ve got 2 types of fat:

    1. Subcutaneous fat, and
    2. Visceral fat

    Illustration 1.1, Source: Google images

    Subcutaneous Fat

    This type of body fat can be found directly under the skin throughout your body. It’s particularly common in the breast, stomach, hips, thighs and buttocks areas. Now the good news is that subcutaneous fat isn’t necessarily hazardous to your health.

    In contrast, subcutaneous fat in the lower body (such as in the thighs and buttocks) seems to put you at a lower risk for various illnesses. A study mentioned in the Journals of Gerontology compared two groups with the same body weight and found that people with more subcutaneous fat in their lower bodies are actually healthier than people with less subcutaneous lower body fat.

    Subcutaneous fat does not cover our internal organs and thereby leaves these organs unaffected. This type of fat is also easily available for the muscles to use as energy; hence, this is the fat that melts away first when you start to exercise and incorporate a healthy diet.

    Visceral Fat

    Go back to the illustration 1.1 and you’ll see that visceral fat (also known as belly fat or abdominal fat) is hidden and gathers around your vital internal organs such as liver, heart, lungs and intestines.

    This type of fat is also called belly fat because visceral fat’s primarily located in the midsection.

    Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is also harder to manage as it can be hidden underneath the muscles. To complicate matters, unlike subcutaneous fat, which is easily burned, this type of fat remains untouched when your body needs energy except as a last resort. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense because if you were to experience a long famine, your body would need to use this fat to survive the period since you have no access to food. But in the current world where the food is ubiquitous and obesity is common, we don’t have any need for storing this type of fat.

    Now, this storage of fat also explains why it’s so hard to lose those last few inches off your midsection. If you have ever tried to lose weight, you’ll know that you’ll lose fat quite fast in all areas of your body except your midsection.

    The Dangers of Belly Fat

    You may have heard of the apple versus pear shaped body. People with apple shaped bodies have a higher amount of visceral fat. However, people who suffer from excessive amounts of subcutaneous fat have a pear-shaped body, meaning most of their fat is stored below the waist.

    Illustration 1.2, Source: Google images

    People with apple shaped bodies are more prone to cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes and blood pressure than people with pear shaped bodies because the former group carry around a lot of visceral fat in their bellies.

    People with apple shaped bodies may have a higher rate of these type of diseases because a high amount of belly fat produces high levels of inflammation in your body and this inflammation, in turn, can trigger a wide range of diseases. Additionally, this fat also prevents healthy blood flow and the detoxification of toxins in the body.

    And remember since this visceral fat is present near your major internal organs, the accumulation of this fat increases many health risks. Here are some diseases associated with visceral fat:

    • type-2 diabetes, as was mentioned before,
    • blood pressure,
    • cholesterol,
    • insulin sensitivity,
    • metabolic syndrome,
    • obesity,
    • arthritis,
    • hormonal dysfunctions, and even
    • certain types of cancers!

    Looking at these dangers of belly fat, I understand, why Umar (RA) described a big belly as a punishment (adaab) of Allah! It’s indeed a major discomfort to lead a life with a bulging belly!

    Measure Your Visceral Fat

    Now that you know the dangers of belly fat (aka visceral fat), you may be curious to find out the amount of this fat in your body.

    There are a couple of ways to easily measure your visceral fat.

    Waist circumference:

    You can use a simple cloth measuring tape to measure your waist circumference. Measuring your waist size is one of the easiest ways to measure your visceral fat.

    Here is how to measure your waist: Measure at the navel. Stand upright and breathe normally with the abdomen relaxed.

    If you are shooting for a healthy waist circumference, here is a general guide to follow.

    Men: A waist circumference below 94 centimetres (or 37 inches) is healthy

    Women: A waist circumference of below 80 centimetres (or 31.5 inches) is healthy.

    Waist-hip ratio:

    You can find out the waist-hip ratio by measuring the circumference of your hips at the widest point, across your buttocks. Then measure your waist as described above. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get the ratio.

    Men: A ratio anything below 0.90 is good

    Women: A ratio anything below 0.85 is good

    Body fat percentage

    Your body fat percentage indicates the status of your current health. Hence, measuring it regularly gives you an idea of whether or not you are in the healthy range of body fat percentage.

    That being said, it’s not easy to measure your accurate body fat percentage. Many digital devices that are available on the market aren’t that accurate.

    One of the easiest and most accurate ways of measuring your body fat is by using skinfold caliper. But to use this caliper correctly, you need some practice to get an accurate reading.

    Here is a general guide to follow.

    Men: Anything above 20% or below 6% is considered unhealthy.

    Women: Anything above 30% or below 16% is considered unhealthy.

    How to Get Rid of Your Visceral Fat

    If you want to get rid of visceral fat and lower your risk for diseases mentioned above, I would advise you to initially focus on these four areas:

    1. Incorporate healthy eating – Focus on eating real food that is full of vegetables, protein, complex carbs and healthy fat at every meal. And minimize foods that are highly processed food, have lots of sugar, simple carbs and trans fat.
    2. Exercise intelligently – Follow an exercise plan that includes strength workouts at least 3 times a week, cardio 3 times a week and 2 high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises. Studies show that HIIT exercises burn more fat than traditional cardio.
    3. Get a regular 7 hours sleep – Sleep deprivation even for a single night can decrease calories burned by 5-20%. Now, imagine the long-term effects of low quality and fewer hours of sleep!
    4. Manage your stress levels – Just like stress can create havoc in your life, it can do the same for your weight loss. So, managing your stress is vital for a long-term lean & healthy life.

    When you incorporate these suggestions, your visceral fat (aka belly fat) will disappear twice as fast as subcutaneous fat.

    Here are four effective exercises to target your abdominal fat:

    1. Crunches
    2. Medicine ball twist
    3. Plank
    4. Cat vomit

    In order to make these abdominal exercises more effective, please do follow these suggestions:

    • Keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout the exercise. You can do this by pulling your navel in.
    • Empty out all the air by breathing out when you engage in abdominal exercises.
    • Train your abs on an empty stomach. Or wait at least after few hours after a meal.
    • Do your cardio after your abdominal exercises. This routine is better for “fat flushing” or losing the fat at a rapid rate.

    Remember Your Intention and Be Patient

    Losing your visceral fat isn’t just about aesthetics or lowering your risk for certain diseases, rather the reduction of belly fat helps you to strengthen your core muscles. As you probably know, strengthening your muscles is essential to having good posture and for your everyday movements.

    So getting rid of visceral fat really means that you are also transforming the way you live your life.

    So, don’t forget to implement the strategies that I’ve provided. Remember to also lose the fat for the Sake of Allah (SWT) since the hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) cautions us by telling us:

    “A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach” (Ibn Majah).

    And I would like to end this article with a beautiful Arabian quotation for you to ponder over: The stomach is the home of disease and restraint is the basis of the remedy.