Dr Nader Lessan Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A new study has found that fasting has no significant impact on a person’s resting metabolic rate, and experts have therefore advised that people who are fasting continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle even during the holy month.

Instead of giving in to the culture of overeating, those who fast must continue to eat sensibly while also attempting to work exercise into their daily Ramadan routine, they said.

The study, conducted by the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi (ICLDC), essentially emphasises the need for self-control even as people get into the routine of fasting during Ramadan, a period when people tend to reduce both sleep and activity levels, said Dr Nader Lessan, lead author of the study and consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist at the ICLDC.

“Our findings show that things don’t change much physiologically even when you are fasting, despite the reduced sleep hours and abstinence from eating and drinking during certain times of the day. Ramadan is a time of discipline, and we should continue to remember this during the month instead of using the time to overindulge,” Safdar Naqvi, medical director and consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist at ICLDC, told Gulf News.

For the research project, 29 healthy non-obese volunteers in Abu Dhabi who were fasting during Ramadan were observed, and the impact on their resting metabolic rate — the energy needed by the body to perform basic functions like breathing, blood circulation and brain functions when the person is resting — was measured. This rate is the primary factor used to calculate the amount of calories a person burns every day, and it is influenced by weight, gender, age and body composition. Researchers also looked into the study participants’ activity levels and total energy expenditure.

Despite the reduced activity levels and sleep times, there was no significant change in the subjects’ resting metabolic rate and total energy expenditure.

“It has previously been demonstrated that acute starvation causes an increase in resting metabolic rate, leading to the possibility that the same phenomenon may also occur in the context of intermittent fasting in Ramadan. But our study did not show any such significant change in total and resting metabolic rate,” Dr Lessan said.

“This implies that any expected reduction in weight and body fat tends to be offset by the increased food intake after iftar and during the night,” he added.

In practice, most people who fast in Ramadan do not tend to lose weight, and those who do lose a few kilograms tend to regain them shortly after the holy month.

What this means is that people should not diverge from healthy eating habits during Ramadan while also making time to work out as usual, Dr Naqvi said.

“In addition, the study noted that many people tend to sleep much less during Ramadan. Culturally, a lot of people spend their time between iftar and the pre-dawn meal awake, which allows them to indulge in treats throughout the night, leading to overeating. This is also a practice best avoided,” he added.

The doctor also advised diabetics who intend to fast to visit their physicians so that medication doses can be adjusted for the holy month.

“As is the case for everyone else, diabetics too should continue to maintain a healthy routine. Ramadan should be no different, other than the doctor-advised changes to medication doses and frequencies, if any,” Dr Naqvi said.

The study by the ICLDC, an Abu Dhabi Government-owned diabetes treatment facility, has been published in renowned medical journal, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.