Earlier this year, I decided to take my health and fitness seriously again. Having tried and failed in the past to keep up a healthy eating regime and maintain a workout schedule, I was determined to try something different this year.
What I was missing was solidarity. Information I could use. Inspiration I could relate to. Accountability. Sisterhood.
And, alhamdulillah, this year I found it in the form of a Facebook fitness support group for Muslim sisters. Here were other busy sisters like me, working out, sharing links, tips, advice, encouragement and a dose of healthy competition. I realised that not only did other sisters out there work out, they worked out hard. They walked, they did cardio, they did weight training. Some of them were beginners, others hard-core exercise addicts. Some worked out at home, others hit the gym. Some walked on the beach, others used the treadmill. All of them tried their best. All of them prioritised their exercise. All of them recognised that our bodies are an amanah, that fitness isn’t something out of our reach and that looking good and feeling great were possibilities.
Indeed, that is what our fitness group did for me: it opened me up to the wonderful possibilities that come with an active, healthy lifestyle. I developed a workout habit. I grew stronger, fitter. I lost weight and I felt good, alhamdulillah. And I wasn’t the only one. I asked some of the other sisters what being a ‘fit sista’ meant to them.
Umm Abdillah, a mother of one, told me about her turbulent history with working out: “I have made attempts to shape up in the past, mostly for aesthetic reasons: to try to hold on to my spouse, to hold off the competition. Well, I shaped up but that didn’t have the desired effect so I gave up and headed back to the couch.”
Not only did Umm Abdillah’s willpower take a bashing, her health suffered too. “In the spring of 2013, my weight reached 225lbs and I was praying in a chair and experiencing serious symptoms of disease. By January 2014, I was taking blood pressure meds, too.”
Another member, Umm Asiya, a Qur’an teacher and mother of four, describes her dissatisfaction with her looks after having kids: “My body was out of shape after having four children: I was overweight and tired of feeling sluggish and lazy. I wasn’t happy with how I felt or looked and I wanted to feel and look good for myself and my husband and children. I wanted to set an example for my children by taking care of my body and keeping fit and healthy as best I can.”
Sister Ameena, who has seven children, shared her thoughts on growing older: “I’ve wanted to get into shape for a long time but just kept putting it off. As I grow older, I realise my limitations and feel that getting in shape will help me to have more stamina and power to accomplish my goals. I still have lots to do and don’t want to run out of steam! Also, I’ve come to learn that our resources are an amanah, including our physical well-being. It’s our responsibility to take care of it and use them in a respectful and wise way. In this way, being in shape will help me honour my covenant with Allah (SWT).”
All the sisters spoke highly of the effect our online fitness sisterhood has had on their fitness journey. They mentioned the support they received, the resources, the element of competition and, most importantly, accountability: if a member doesn’t post for a couple of weeks, admin gives them a shout and asks how they’re doing, how their goals are coming along. As Sister Asiya put it, “The group has been a blessing and an invaluable source of information as well as a source of motivation and inspiration. The way we are encouraged to share our daily progress on the journey is extremely helpful because, in one way, it motivates you to get off your seat and exercise after you’ve seen so many sisters posting their workouts. In another way it lets you know you’re not alone; that you’re not the only one who feels unmotivated or lazy some days.”
Sister Ameena spent a long time sitting on the sidelines before finally taking the plunge. “I joined a few months before I did any workouts at all… but I always read the posts. I saw others with similar goals and struggles… yet they were joining in and working away at it to reach their fitness goals. So I set a date – my 50th birthday – and promised that I would be a ‘fit sista’ too.”
Each sister I interviewed had some great advice for other sisters who are sitting on the sidelines thinking that working out and getting in shape are beyond their reach. The group admin, Umm Abdullah, is always very vocal about the importance of the right intention. “Do it, first and foremost, for Allah (SWT). Make your intention to please Him. There is nothing more important than seeking His pleasure. Allah (SWT) has given us our bodies as an amanah. If we are not healthy, it will not be easy to worship Him in a way that is pleasing to Him, to fast, stand in prayer, etc. This reason should be enough to make us get up and protect the amanah that was given to us.”
Umm Abdillah urges sisters to consider the benefits to their own sense of self: “You will feel so much healthier if you develop a regular exercise routine.Your self-esteem will improve. You will respect yourself more if you are keeping your commitment to yourself. And also, I think we often have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude to fitness. If we can’t meet an ideal beauty standard, we let ourselves go. But every sister has value and deserves to be treated well, by herself most of all. Sometimes we lose track of that, but it’s true. And for mothers of daughters it’s especially important to set a good example.”
Procrastination is often our biggest enemy and many of the sisters had words of encouragement for those who just need a push to get started.
Ameena said, “Just do it! Set goals that you know you can achieve and get started. There is no time like the present and days, weeks and years slip away so fast with empty promises to yourself if you do not get at it. Even if you have never worked out before, there are so many opportunities and different workouts to choose from, from no impact to extreme workouts, it’s all so easy and accessible via YouTube and the Internet.”
On a more practical note, Asiya advised taking baby steps. “Start out with a small 7 day commitment. For 7 days, you’ll do a 10-15 minute workout each day. Start walking with Leslie Sansone’s Walk at Home, just one mile. Bi’ithnillah, by the end of the week you will have seen what just a little bit of effort can do for your overall wellness and you’ll be hooked. You won’t want to stop and, in fact, you’ll be asking yourself why you hadn’t started long ago!”
On the pay offs, Umm Abdullah was enthusiastic: “One of the best feelings is putting in all that hard work, eating healthily and working out past what you thought you were able to do and someone coming to you, saying, ‘Wow! Are you losing weight? You look great, etc!’ Motivation booster to the 5th power! May Allah (SWT) make it easy on all of us, ameen.”
According to Ameena: “You deserve to treat yourself to that exhilarating feeling of finally saying, ‘I’m doing it… I’m a fit sista!’”
May Allah reward the admins and all the sisters who made the group such a supportive, fun place to be, ameen!
If you’d like to start your fitness journey, check out some of our favourite online resources:
www.lesliesansone.com – perfect for beginners – lots of sisters have seen the weight DROP using her easy and fun Walk at Home videos.
www.fitnessblender.com – everything from beginners to advanced, cardio, strength, HIIT and more with a wealth of features and a fun community.
www.jessicasmith.tv – another great site with all kinds of workout and a sweet, accessible trainer with a dog called Peanut.
www.fitsugar.com – great for their 10 minute workouts, print out sheets and running tips and tricks.
All of the above sites have their videos available on YouTube.