The heart pumps life. It keeps us moving, breathing and feeling. It maintains the body and mind that we have been entrusted with from Allah, and fuels our muscles so that we may worship Him. It is important to maintain the spiritual heart, but are we making sure our physical heart is healthy?
Although working on the spiritual heart is the most essential, physical health of the heart is equally important – a physically unhealthy heart will stop us from worshiping Allah in best way possible. So, it is important for us to dedicate time towards looking after our hearts and working towards optimal health.
Being Strong and Healthy is Sunnah
The fit Muslim is a productive Muslim!
- A strong and healthy body will allow us to continue performing salah in an upright position well into our older years.
- The increased energy levels improve our quality of sleep and allows us to wake up for fajr and stand up for tahajjud.
- Being physically fit will make fasting in Ramadan easy and enjoyable.
- Having the intentions of being fit for the sake of Allah is also you stacking up reward too!
Prophet Muhammad advised,
“There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) health and free time for doing good.” [Bukhari]
Our body is an amanah (trust) from Allah, and good health is a great and often under-appreciated blessing.
Some physical benefits of exercising are:
- The surge of happy hormones decreases stress and anxiety, and increases joy
- Feelings of depression are reduced
- Reduces the risk of heart disease and helps manage weight
- Improves muscular and bone strength
- Reduces the risk of certain cancers and diabetes
Strengthening The Physical Heart
Exercise strengthens our heart and improves our overall well-being. But it is important to choose exercises that you enjoy. If an exercise is fun, you are more likely to stick to it. There are the classic two important things that make your heart healthy – exercise and diet.
In terms of exercise, as mentioned above it should be something you enjoy, it does not always have to the usual gym and running technique, you can get creative with it, but an essential point is that you do it consistently, even if in small amounts, it is the consistency that will bring about the desired results.
Healthy Hearts Diet
I do not think we need a reminder as to how important our diet is to our heart, so I will jump straight in with some food habits you can make to your current diet to improve your physical hearts health:
Reduce Salt Levels
Too much salt in food can raise your blood pressure, increasing the risk of a heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure has no symptoms, but can have a devastating effect on the health of your heart.
Often, I hear as a response “but my food will have no flavour” – If you seek that flavour use other spices like black pepper and fresh herbs as substitutes, and believe me with time you will see how beautifully they lift the food you have.
Finally, when shopping look out for “low sodium” versions of packaged foods.
Control Unhealthy Fats
Saturated fats – the fats of indulgence that are found in butter, ghee, cream, hard cheeses, and cakes and biscuits. An excess of saturated fats will result in an increase of bad cholesterol in your blood, which can lead to other detrimental issues.
Instead, choose unsaturated fats such as olive oil or canola oil and eat more fish, avocados, nuts and seeds. These types of fats can work to increase the levels of good cholesterol in your blood when they replace saturated fats. But as always moderation is key.
Switch to Whole Grain
Processed and refined grains contain more simple sugars and less fibre than brown or wholegrain food. As a result, they are less filling and it can be easy for us to overeat.
Having wholegrain is overall more nutritious, better for your heart and a great method of type II diabetes prevention.
Moderation is key
Islam is the middle path; it discourages us from going to extremes. This can be applied to our diet and exercise too. You know your body and you should start with that which you can handle. Allow yourself to indulge in an “unhealthy” snack now and again, the last thing you want is to overwork yourself such that you feel depressed and unmotivated.
“O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.” [Qur’an: 7, 31]
Small changes are likely to remain long-term, which is better than making big changes which only last a month. Have the correct intention, make dua that Allah facilitates you on this journey, and makes your heart healthy for His worship!
Spiritual excesses for a healthy happy heart
All of us are susceptible to the physical and spiritual diseases of the heart unless we take action towards working to prevent them, when it comes to the physical heart we look at diet and excersie, and when it comes to the spiritual heart here are a few things we can do to build towards a healthy heart:-
5 Daily Prayers come first
I asked the Prophet “Which deed is the dearest to Allah?” He replied, “To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times.” [Bukhari]
Organise your day around the prayers and not vice versa, when we have that connection with Allah our world affairs are also taken care of, and maybe because it might seem tangible at the time, but when Allah promises something, he never fails to deliver on his promise.
Allah says in His Book,
“Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.” [Qur’an: 13,28]
Reciting duas for specific activities like waking up, morning and evening adhkar, saying bismillah before doing even the simple and regular tasks, saying alhamdulillah (all praises and thanks to Allah in all circumstances) while coming across something displeasing, saying astaghfirAllah when you make a mistake are simple ways to act upon this verse. When you have Allah in your heart and the forefront of your mind, you will see the positivity ooze from yourself.
Read the Qur’an with concentration, pondering and understanding
Make it a habit to read the Qur’an and memorizing some of its verses. The scholars suggest that a Muslim should not consider his/her day complete without reciting the Qur’an. Recitation does the same thing as the process of learning; it enhances us psychologically and shapes us into a more God-conscious person. Remembering always that the quran is more than just words, it’s a conversation between you and Allah.
The Messenger of Allah said,
“Verily, when the believer commits a sin, a black spot appears upon his heart. If he repents and abandons the sin and seeks forgiveness, his heart will be polished, but if he increases in sin, the blackness increases. [Tirmidhi]
The Prophet said,
“Sometimes I perceive a veil over my heart, and I supplicate Allah for forgiveness a hundred times in a day.” [Muslim]
If the Messenger of Allah, the best of creation, asked for forgiveness one hundred times a day, imagine how much we need this! Make the effort to make istighfaar a habit for you and your family.
And additionally, ask forgiveness from the people that you may have wronged in the day, this removes animosity, hatred, anger… And so many more negative diseases of the heart; improving your spirituality and your physical wellbeing in the process.
Make Dua and ask of Allah
The Prophet said,
“The supplication is worship.” Then he recited, “And Your Lord said: ‘Call upon me, I will respond to you.’” [Tirmidhi]
Sit, bow, plead as you raise your hands to Him and empty your heart out to Him. Knowing that your life is in Allah’s Hands will give you ease and contentment with what you have. Allah loves to give to us when we ask – so make dua in times of ease and hardship knowing that Allah is listening and knowing that Allah is ashamed to turn you away empty handed.
Building a Strong Future & Leaving Bad Habits
I final point I wanted to mention is that one will need to leave that which disturbs your heart, be it futile conversation, excessive time infront of the TV or on social media, and use your time with wisdom to see the true fruits of a happy-healthy-heart.
For those of you reading this in Ramadan, this is the perfect opportunity to build habits that we maintain throughout the year, habits that are both pertaining our physical and our spiritual heart, may Allah grant us all that which is best, and may he guide us to that which keeps us pure and within the folds of his mercy.