I Feel Alive!
Recently, Radio Islam held a three-week fitness challenge. The “Walkie Talkie Challenge” began at the beginning of September with the onset of spring. The aim was to inspire all our listeners to get fit, starting with the station’s presenters. All presenters were required to download an app monitoring the steps they had taken, and the results were published on social media every week. The outcome was amazing, and pleasing (to me anyway, as the winner at the end of the three weeks turned out to be a female colleague, who was also at least 10 years older than the rest of the participants!). Apa Faheema Patel, a mother of ten, and a grandmother, had won the challenge with more than 400 000 steps having been taken by the end of the challenge, averaging a whopping 20 000 steps per day. This is her story.
A year ago, Apa Faheema, had developed an array of medical conditions. Seated directly opposite her at our workstation, (up until the lockdown took effect and I began working from home, that is), I watched her make visits to her doctor almost every week.
She suffered from extremely painful arthritis in her hips, water retention in her legs and feet, severely swollen, painful feet. There were days, she says, when she could barely walk. She would experience wheezing at night and was diagnosed with severe chronic allergies, for which she was taking chronic medication, and in addition to this, her doctor had put her on a pump These allergies caused her to snore at night, and she could not get a proper night’s sleep. Apa Faheema’s doctor told her that she was 36kg overweight, with the extra weight further impacting on her joints. This affected her life even to the extent where it disturbed her worship, as she could not go into ruku and sujood. Yes, her health was deteriorating fast, and would in all probability eventually have dipped even further with the long-term use of chronic medication. Apa Faheema says, “I was sick and ill for far too long, and it affected me at home as well. I struggled to perform my chores. I was constantly tired and lethargic. I did not want to feel this way anymore.” Then, her turning point arrived.
Apa Faheema visited her doctor once again and he informed her that her health was in in the ‘red zone’. She said, “I needed to make a serious decision with regards to my overall health. The doctor recommended that I start walking and change my eating habits. I had no will power and I did not know where to start. ‘NO’ was the most terrifying word for me.” Like most of us the ability to turn down something that she enjoyed seemed impossible. She says, “I had to do this the right way and it was now or never.”
Apa Faheema says, “I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started taking action. I no longer cared about the scale, or how much weight I needed to lose. All i wanted was to be strong and well. I wanted to have a good mindset and a positive attitude.”
The GP Apa Faheema consulted advised her to stay away from all the ‘C’s’: the crisps, chocolates, cooldrinks, cakes, cookies, and so on. She says, laughingly referring to how her family had come to adapt to (and enjoy) the better diet in the house, “Now all the ‘C’s’ had become limited in the house, the fridge became healthy too!”
Apa Faheema began to use nutrition to turn her health around. She says, “Good nutrition is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. Combined with physical activity (her doctor had advised her to begin by simply walking), my diet helped me to reach and maintain a healthy weight and promoted my overall health. My body became regular. This came with decreased bloating and discomfort. I was starting to look slimmer as well. (I can vouch for this. I came across Apa Faheema walking to work one Saturday morning during the lockdown, while out walking myself. She said, “I would recognize that walk anywhere!” I, however, did not recognize her from afar, that’s how significant a loss in weight she had achieved. I did notice, nevertheless, that she looked different. Better. Her skin had a glow and her eyes looked alert and were sparkling).
Apa Faheema adds, “My mood and outlook changed. I had less ups and downs throughout the day and even started to feel more empowered in my daily life. I drink lots of water. I began walking, running, strength training, boxing and weightlifting regularly, which turned my sluggish metabolism into a fat-burning machine. Even though I still on occasion, indulge, I dedicated myself to the clean eating lifestyle.” Apa Faheema began to eat more vegetables and fruits. She began to create smoothies, especially green smoothies. She says, “Green is gold, and is power packed with all the nutrients that that body needs.” She advises that consumers read the label of products to know what they are eating (you are what you eat). Her simple guideline is: Stop eating refined carbs and processed foods, avoid vegetable oils and spreads, limit salt and sugar intake, drink 2 liters of water a day, as well as green tea.
Her commitment to embrace a healthier, cleaner lifestyle resulted in a positive change to her family. She says, “They had to adjust to the routine of mummy going out for her run, they knew now that meals were healthy, and by the way they love the new menu, and my husband lost 7kg in the process.” She adds, “Buy smart, cook smart, eat smart.” She managed to fit in exercise even while fulfilling her role as a wife, a mother of a large family, and a full time employee (making it really difficult for those of us who complain that we don’t have time to), saying, “When you’re determined and motivated to change you overall health, you will make the time. Having a busy life, performing ibaadah on time, working full time and having to manage the household and my social welfare organization took a lot out of me. I decided to make one hour of every day just mine. I call it my ‘Power Hour’. This one hour allowed me to do what I needed to for myself, mentally and physically.
Aside from poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, stress also has a negative impact on our health and wellbeing. Apa Faheema had to learn to manage hers. She says, “Stress is inevitable part of life. It’s how we manage and handle situations that is important. There is no person in this world that does not have a problem or stresses. Take it with a pinch of salt, make Dua to Allah for guidance and help, and all will turn out right, inshaAllah.” She adds, “Exercise also decreases tension levels and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and improves self-esteem. It reduces stress.”
The message Apa Faheema really wanted to share was this: I am a Muslim woman in hijab and niqab, and I run like a Muslimah. Hijaab and niqaab is my journey: I run in modest active wear, covered head to toe. People have the perception that we are pitiable and oppressed, as Muslim women. We are not. We are free to do anything. We should not feel restriction in doing things we love and enjoy and that brings out the best in us, so long as we remain within the limits of the Shari’ah. More and more Muslim women have been creating waves and changing the perception that Muslim women are oppressed. While our identity is rooted in being Muslim, Islam places emphasis on being healthy. Running has helped me in so many ways and meeting new people is one of them. I have seen this quote floating around and it has stayed with me, ‘I dare you train for a marathon and not have it change your life. If you let it in, running might just change your life too. I’ve chosen air, sunshine and love. But mainly, I thank Allah SAW, for my health and the strength I’ve recovered. I feel alive. I started off with walking, then I walked and ran, and now that I run, I’ve completed my first 15km run during the ‘Walkie Talkie Challenge’. I’m now determined to do a 21km run. Getting better is a personal campaign. It is a battle each of us face every day with a different starting line and finishing line. For some it’s running. The distance or goal does not matter. What matters is that you wake up and go into each day believing that your best you has not arrived as yet. Adopt the mindset that you are continuously improving. You are a work in progress and your transformation is gaining momentum. Be focused and do the work today so that wherever your finish line is, you are destined for victory!”
These are some tips Apa Faheema shared, which keep her motivated:
Envision where you want to be.
Write out a plan.
Avoid toxic people.
Defined your goals and act towards achieving them.
Keep it positive.
Reach out for help.
Change your attitude.
Write out a plan.
As the winner of the challenge (and having regained her health and wellbeing – she no longer needs to take medication of any kind), Apa Faheema emphasizes, “Positive thinking can help you achieve all your goals. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it.”
Umm Muhammed Umar