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Beyond fasting: Ramadan's health benefits




Ramadan is the holiest time of the year for the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. However, two experts say, non-Muslims might look at some practices of Ramadan for their own health. Ramadan this year is Sept. 1-30.


Fasting, no food or drink from sun up to sun down, the best known element of Ramadan, "is good for you psychologically as well as physically," said Dr. Shahid Athar an endocrinologist at Indiana University's School of Medicine. "You can fast partially. Even the American Heart Association says partial fasting reduces cholesterol and helps the body."


And, of course, "with fasting you eat less," said Dr. Ghazala Hayat, SLUCare neurologist and professor at St. Louis University School of Medicine.


Ramadan's other elements can help mental health, stress relief and personal growth, they said.


Make peace with others you have wronged. While mental health studies show that carrying guilt is harmful, Athar said, the key word is seeking peace and tranquility.


Re-evaluate the direction of your life. "It's very easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of life; do you need another house, a bigger car ... but that's not the purpose of life," Hayat said. "Life is here to live to the best of my potential, to be a productive member of the community."


Get rid of bad habits. "You learn to live with restraint. We nibble food all the time, we reach for another cup of coffee and another. We smoke," Ahtar said. "It's like boot camp; we break the habit for a whole month."


"This is a time to regenerate," Ahtar said. "If you practice these things for a month, you may be able to take them with you through the rest of the year."




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mijunkin September 18, 2008 9:51AM CST

I am not Muslim, though I fast for Ramadan each year. I find it both physically and mentally refreshing, but a big reason I do it is to challenge people's views of Islam. At my workplace, a number of people had made incredibly ignorant and racist remarks about Muslims. Feeling that I didn't know enough to counter them, I started to read a lot about Islam, and found that Ramadan has many great aspects, so I decided to take part. I would encourage others to do so as well!


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