muslim family celebrating eid mubarak with their elderly parents/grandparents after ramadan fasting

12 Healthy Ramadan Fasting Tips for The Elderly

Is it safe for the elderly to fast during Ramadan? Here are some tips for the elderly to fast safely during Ramadan.

by Nathasha Lee

Fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, duties that each adult Muslim is required to regularly carry out. During the 30 days of Ramadan, Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset, pray more intensely and perform acts of charity. Fasting during Ramadan is an important practice for Muslims in helping them to cultivate self-discipline, grow compassion for the less fortunate, and develop themselves spiritually.

For senior citizens, Ramadan fasting continues to be an important religious duty. However, it’s not uncommon for seniors to have health conditions that may affect how they can fast. In this article, Homage will discuss viewpoints on whether the elderly should fast during Ramadan and possible health problems to take note of when fasting. We will go over 12 tips that you or your older relatives can take to fast safely this Ramadan.

Should the Elderly Fast During Ramadan?

Fasting during Ramadan is mandatory for every healthy able-bodied adult Muslim. If any adult Muslim is in good health and believes that he or she can fast without putting their own health in danger, they should do so. According to Islamic law, there are some groups that are exempt from fasting including senior citizens, people who are ill, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people with special needs who might not be able to understand the reason for fasting.

According to Majilis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis), if a senior citizen is not physically able to continue fasting, they are encouraged to break their fast. Senior citizens who choose to break their fast do not need to make up for the days they have not fasted by fasting on other days outside of Ramadan (qadha’). However, they are required by Islamic law to contribute to feeding the less fortunate by donating to charity in an act known as fidha. Fidha can be made through donation of foodstuffs or as cash donations. You can use a free online calculator to find out how much fidha you need to pay on Muis’ official website.

Nonetheless, there are many senior citizens who persist in fasting because they want to honour their religious duties. Underlying health conditions may affect your ability to fast safely. Please consult your doctor and your religious authorities before you decide to continue fasting or not.

Problems that Senior Citizens may Face in Ramadan Fasting

Problems that senior citizens might face during Ramadan fasting depend on their pre-existing health conditions. For example, diabetes mellitus is a common condition that affects 8.6% of Singaporeans aged 18 to 69. Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot control blood sugar levels well because it is not sensitive to insulin. This causes blood sugar levels to easily become too high or too low. Fasting can increase the risk of hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar. When someone’s blood sugar is too low, it can lead to problems like dizziness, blurred vision, and fainting.

Another condition senior citizens may have which can affect fasting is hypertension. Hypertension is a condition where someone’s blood pressure is consistently higher than normal. Regular medication is usually needed to control blood pressure, but depending on the type of medication, taking it during the fasting hours may cause a Muslim to break their fast. Ramadan fasting may require adjustments from Muslims with hypertension so that they can manage their blood pressure during the fast.

Senior citizens should also take their medication schedule into account during Ramadan fasting. Since taking in substances through the mouth will cause one’s fast to be invalid, taking medication orally might cause you to break your fast. Shifting your medication schedule to account for fasting should be done before Ramadan starts so that your body has time to adjust. Always talk to your healthcare provider before changing the times when you take your medication.

12 Tips for Senior Citizens to Fast Safely during Ramadan

1.     Avoid caffeine

Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that taking in a lot of caffeine will cause you to urinate more. Urinating more often can lead to dehydration as your body loses water through urine. Cut down on caffeinated drinks like coffee and black tea in the days leading up to Ramadan.

2.     Avoid foods high in sugar and salt

Sugary foods can cause your blood sugar levels to increase and then drop quickly, which will cause you to be tired. Foods that are high in salt can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. For sahoor and iftar choose foods that have less sugar and salt to maintain a healthy diet during Ramadan.

3.     Check your blood sugar levels more often

Your blood sugar levels are more likely to experience larger changes during fasting when you are not taking in sugars from your food throughout the day. Check your blood sugar levels regularly to prevent instances of low blood sugar.  

4.     Cut down on smoking

Smoking can increase your risk of lung cancer and heart attacks. Cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke in the days before Ramadan starts. Ramadan can be a good time to kick a smoking habit as smoking during the fasting hours might also cause you to break your fast.

5.     Control your portion sizes

Instead of eating one large meal at iftar, you can eat two to three smaller meals instead. Eating smaller meals helps you to avoid overeating and results in more gradual changes to your blood sugar levels.

6.     Discuss your medication schedule with your doctor

People with long-term medication schedules might need to change the times they take their medicine to be before sunrise and after sunset. Talk to your doctor about whether it is safe to take your medication at different hours. If your doctor has determined that it is not safe for you to go without medication for most of the day, talk to your imam or other religious authorities to decide if it is advisable for you to break your fast.

7.     Drink more fluids

Dehydration is a problem that you may encounter during Ramadan fasting. Not getting enough water for long periods of time can lead to low blood pressure, seizures, and kidney damage. Make sure to get plenty of water during your sahoor and iftar meals. Eating foods with high water content, like fresh fruit and vegetables, can also help you get the fluids that you need.

8.     Eat more low GI foods

Foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) release sugar more slowly. This causes your blood sugar to increase more gradually. Low GI foods are especially important for people with diabetes as they can help to regulate their blood sugar levels. Examples of low GI foods include whole grains, chickpeas, and oranges.

9.     Get enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep affects the body’s sensitivity to insulin, causing blood sugar levels to become harder to control. Lack of sleep has been linked to a higher risk of health problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The recommended amount of sleep for adults aged 18 to 60 years old is 7 hours a night.

10.  Get suitable exercise

It can be tempting to want to move around as little as possible while fasting to try to save energy. However, not moving around at all can have the opposite effect and cause you to feel more lethargic instead. You can do some mild exercise, like brisk walking or short jogs, to improve your blood circulation and help you feel more energetic. You can add exercise to your lifestyle by changing parts of your daily routine, for example by walking instead of driving to the mosque for evening prayers.

11.  Have sahoor later

Having the pre-dawn meal, also known as sahoor, just before the break of dawn can help you keep up your energy levels throughout the day. Taking sahoor much earlier than dawn might cause you to use up the energy from your food earlier and make you feel weaker until the time you can break your fast. Delaying having your sahoor can help the energy you gain from your meal last you throughout your active hours until sunset.

12.  Take nutritious snacks during iftar

Healthy snacks at iftar can help the body gain energy again quickly. Among some Muslim communities, it is a custom to break the day’s fast with three dates. Dates are a good choice for a healthy snack as they contain natural sugar, fibre and other essential minerals like magnesium and potassium. Other healthy nutritious snacks include unsweetened yoghurt, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and fruits like grapes, apricots, and figs.

We hope that this article has helped you or your family members who are senior citizens better understand how you can fast safely this Ramadan season. Remember: if in doubt, always consult a doctor. With Homage, you can actually consult a doctor via a quick video call as well for greater convenience. Try it out on our Homage app!

Last but not least, Homage would like to wish all of our Muslim readers Ramadan Kareem (a generous Ramadan)!

References
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  2.     CDC – How Much Sleep Do I Need? – Sleep and Sleep Disorders. (n.d.). Centre for Disease Control. Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
  3. “Frequently Asked Questions on Ramadan.” (n.d.). Majilis Ugama Islam Singapura. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://www.muis.gov.sg/-/media/Files/OOM/Resources/FAQ-english-ramadan.pdf?la=en&hash=2CC747CE4DBF5CD76EF52C722FE82F82401734B5
  4.     Grindrod, K., & Alsabbagh, W. (2017). Managing medications during Ramadan fasting. Canadian pharmacists journal : CPJ = Revue des pharmaciens du Canada : RPC, 150(3), 146–149. https://doi.org/10.1177/1715163517700840
  5.     Harvard Health Publishing. (2019, October). The trouble with excess salt. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-trouble-with-excess-salt
  6.     NHS website. (2018, June 4). Why lack of sleep is bad for your health. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/#:%7E:text=Regular%20poor%20sleep%20puts%20you,a%20long%20and%20healthy%20life.
  7. Ramadan and diabetes. (n.d.). Diabetes UK. Retrieved April 9, 2021, from https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/ramadan
  8. RMIT University. (n.d.). Healthy fasting during Ramadan. Retrieved April 9, 2021, from https://www.rmit.edu.au/students/support-and-facilities/student-support/health/healthy-body-healthy-mind/healthy-fasting-during-ramadan
  9.     Sajad, K. (2019, May 10). How to exercise, eat and sleep well during Ramadan. BBC Sport. https://www.bbc.com/sport/get-inspired/43892309
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About the Writer
Nathasha Lee
Nathasha Lee is a final-year Anthropology major at Yale-NUS College. She hopes her writing can make a positive difference in the lives of readers, no matter how small. In her spare time, she enjoys making art, listening to podcasts, and drinking lots of tea.
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