Keep Moving This Winter
The winter season is no doubt a time for enjoying the indoors with family and friends, or maybe even catching up on your reading list in the warmth of your home. For many people, the winter season also includes indulging in seasonal favorites like roasted chestnuts, cooked lamb, stuffed zucchini, warm apple pie, hearty pumpkin soup, and other traditional comfort foods. Unfortunately, by the time spring arrives, those inviting tastes we enjoyed for weeks have likely settled as pounds on our hips. This is one reason why being physically active is a year-round necessity. Sure, it is easier to get moving when the weather is more appealing, but cold winds and shivering bodies should not keep you from gearing up for some physical activity, whether it is at an indoor gym or right outside your door. Even a daily twenty-minute winter stroll can have a positive, lasting effect on your mind, body, and soul.
When the temperatures outside drop, so does circulation in some parts of your body. This causes you to feel cold. Benefits of staying active include stimulation of mood-boosting endorphins, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, increasing blood circulation, staying focused, warding off stress, and, of course, warming up.
Another important result of physical activity is the ability to perform religious work. Bodily health and activity filters from the physical well-being to the religious well-being in terms of having the energy and positive state of mind to support oneself and the community. In Islam, the second pillar, salat, or prayer, requires physical activity. Therefore, without leaving the comfort of your home, you are performing exercise at the same time you are performing an obligatory religious act. When carried out accurately, the movements of prayer involve all the joints and muscles of the body.
The fourth pillar of Islam, fasting in Ramadan, also requires significant physical and mental strength. The fifth pillar of Islam, Hajj, is arguably the most physically challenging performance for Muslims of all ages. Nevertheless, Hajj is a remarkable journey of a lifetime that every Muslim strives to experience at least once. For many Muslims, Hajj comes in the later part of life. For this reason, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the year and for years to come.
From a Sahih Muslim hadith we know that Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]) said that a strong believer is better than a weak believer. In this hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) was referring not only to the faith and character of Muslims, but also to our physical strength. As long as God has bestowed upon us the blessing of health, it is indeed our responsibility to appreciate this blessing by attaining and maintaining our strength in order to fulfill our duties as Muslims. In his paper titled, “Physical Activity and Exercise: An Islamic Perspective,” Dr. Omar Hasan Kasule points out, “Physical activity is mustahabb [encouraged] for its physiological and health benefits. It is wajib [duty] when it is required as part of disease treatment. It is also mustahabb [encouraged] as a recreation.” Although some illnesses and ailments are beyond our control, it is nonetheless our duty to use whatever advantages we do have to prevent diminished health.
Dr. Kasule continues, “Physical exercise increases muscle and joint strength and flexibility, increases physical fitness, decreases body lipids, enhances the efficiency and endurance of the cardio-respiratory system, and lowers mortality and morbidity from chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and colon cancer.”
Amena Syed, from Columbus, Ohio, points to another benefit of exercise: social interaction. She says, “When I walk outside, I meet neighbors who I never knew lived in my area. It is good to talk with these people; we relish the friendliness of our discussions as we exchange news and happenings.” Certainly, we live in a world where we must get along with others in order to benefit from their experiences and teach them from ours.
The Prophet (PBUH) taught his Companions to be active not only in daily life, but to take on sports such as swimming, archery, and horseback riding. At the same time, he reminded them that every action should include the remembrance of God. In another Sahih Muslim hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Any action without the remembrance of God is either a diversion or heedlessness except four acts: walking from target to target (during archery practice), training a horse, playing with one’s family, and learning to swim.” From this, we know that Islam is not a one-dimensional religion that focuses on religious work without including the mind and body. There is plenty of evidence that our revered Prophets (Peace Be Upon Them) were not only known for their wisdom and intelligence, but also for their physical strength. Prophet Nuh (PBUH), for example, singlehandedly built the Ark without the assistance of any modern machinery. Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) and his son, Prophet Ismail (PBUH), built the beloved Kaba, brick by brick, with their own hands.
For Murad Khalid, from Bensenville, Illinois, staying active is essential, even in the winter. Khalid strives for both indoor and outdoor activity. “For me, a combination of gym and outside exercise is the best. Being outside makes me feel energetic and fresh. Plus, I get to enjoy the nature God created. When you are out, you never know who you will meet at the local park, maybe you get asked to play some basketball, which doubles the fun and the calories burned.”
There are added benefits of being active outdoors in the winter. To start, it releases some stress of feeling trapped indoors and contributes to an overall healthy well-being. The cold air communicates to your body to step up to the demand by moving and warming up. Outdoor activity also lowers the risk of being overweight. The fresh air and wide open spaces naturally inspire more activity, especially when contrasted with the motionless couches and distracting devices of the indoors.
Remember, fitness and healthy living is a lifestyle; enjoy what your area has to offer during the season. Whether it is a special rate at the local gym or simply the great outdoors, try to take advantage of the time and your health. The winter offers plenty of enjoyable seasonal activities, so do not let the short days and cold weather ice over your healthy outlook. Be a health-conscious person who blends diet, nutrition, and exercise with the remembrance of God and an intention to fulfill religious obligations.
May God guide us and accept our good intentions.