Advice to Homeschooling Mothers: Exercise and Eat Healthier

Asalaam ‘Alaikum:

I know I sound like a broken record these days – but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of exercise in your life and the life of your children. I mean, if you don’t care about your own physical fitness – if you don’t make good health an important goal in your life – who else is going to be a good example for your child when they grow up? You do want them to be healthy, right? Besides – it’s not only for your children – good health benefits you.

Some people, masha’Allah already take care of themselves (always have). Perhaps they have had good examples in their lives. However, with the rise in obesity and health problems soaring (especially in much younger people), I’m assuming many people (myself included) didn’t have a good example in their lives on how to eat healthy and stay healthy. Plus, we have to realize that this world is rapidly changing – what food our parents or our grandparents ate – portion sizes – and how food was cooked back then is way different than it is now. Food, it seems, is getting unhealthier and unhealthier (especially readily prepared foods). Servings of food are getting larger and larger. Let’s just say that I remember growing up in a time when McDonald’s used to serve what is now the child’s portion of fries to all customers. There was no “Super Size”. With corn syrup invading the shopping aisles and more and more people turning to already prepared foods to make their load a little easier – we are helping ourselves become extremely unhealthy. You also have to realize that people were much more active than they are now. Just think of these wonderful computers we use – more and more people are sitting more and more often. When they are not on the computer – they are watching television. People used to get out more. When you couple our sedentary lives along with the surplus of food (much of which is unhealthy) – that spells trouble.

Have hope – it’s never to late to learn, alhumdulilah. I can’t tell you how many people I have met who only got serious about taking care of themselves when they started to have health problems. That’s not the best time to make a change. It’s effective – it wakes you up – but why wait until then to get started on something good for you? I do know that it is not easy – I seem to say that a lot, subhan’Allah. But it’s not. Think of it as something you need to take one step at a time. I am still making changes – it takes time and it also takes learning about what is best for your health.

I do think this problem is widespread – no matter where you live or what your job may be. However, as a homeschooling mother, it is so easy to put your own needs aside when the tasks start to pile up. You’re a mother – right – that’s what you’re supposed to do. I should know – I’ve been there. I do know that you always feel like there simply is no time. No matter how hard you clean it seems like the kids are always messing up two rooms while you are trying to just clean up a small area of one other room. Just as you sit down to enjoy your morning cup of coffee or tea (in the middle of the afternoon – yes, not in the morning – you are too busy!) the kids start calling “Mommy – Mommy – Mommy!” Am I right?

Realize the Importance of Good Health,

Before it’s too late:

Don’t only realize the importance of good health after it is taken from you. Don’t take for granted that you will always be healthy – it just doesn’t work that way. You have to work at it – you have to be conscious of how you are treating your body. And, for those of you who seem healthy because they don’t gain weight easily – don’t be fooled. Good health does not only mean looking good in a pair of jeans (so to speak). People can be incredibly skinny and still unhealthy! And – as all of us will get older some day – your metabolism will not always be as wonderful as it was when you were younger – you might as well build some good habits now while it is easier (really).

As it is stated in Sahih Al-Bukhair, Ibn ‘Abbas narrated “The Prophet (saw) said, ‘There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) Health and free time for doing good.'”

As human beings, we take so much for granted, subhan’Allah. Our bodies are a gift from Allah, and a great responsibility. How many of us remember that responsibility when we eat – or when we fail to exercise our bodies? It is a responsibility that Prophet Muhammad (saw) has reminded us of as well –

In Al-Musnad (by Imam Ahmad) the Prophet (saw) said: “The son of Adam never fills a vessel worse than his stomach. The son of Adam only needs a few bites that would sustain him, but if he insists, one third should be reserved for his food, another third for his drink and the last third for his breathing.”

We really need to remember that – it is hard – because especially nowadays there is so much available out there – so many types of foods – so many flavors. Subhan’Allah! We need to remind ourselves of this a lot – and remind each other.

Rammadan and the All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet:

Rammadan is coming soon – and I am sure we can all recall how much we have centered our own lives around food during the month of Rammadan. Women cooking in the kitchen all day – cooking full-course meals. Some people also sleep all day and wake in the early evening to “start their day”. They then stay up all night to consume food only to begin the cycle the next morning. Now, how much of theses behavior are based on the Qur’an and Sunnah?

We’ve gone to the masjid during Rammadan and subhan’Allah – the amounts of food they usually provide is crazy. It’s the same if you visit others during Rammadan. If you tell them you only want a little – they still pile your plate high and demand that you need to eat it because you were fasting all day. Alhumdulilah, there have been times when we just ate soup at home to break our fast and were full from that all evening, masha’Allah. And I should also mention that there is really some wisdom to breaking your fast with dates and water.

Outside of Rammadan, fasting is also a great way to teach your body how to need less. If you find that you crave food too much – try fasting, it helps in many ways but it also helps to teach you not to be hungry all the time. This does not mean that this is the only reason we fast – however, if it is Sunnah to eat less and to only eat what sustains you – wouldn’t that be a part of it – teaching yourself to need less food? Allah knows best.

Now, I have spoken quite a bit about the importance of eating healthier in some of my previous posts. Just search under the category of healthy home and you will find them – insha’Allah. I could write a lot on that topic – but I’m trying not to repeat myself too often.

Exercise Makes You Feel Good . . . Really!

Back to exercise. I love it – I actually look forward to going to the gym – not necessarily every day (we all have slumps) – but most of the time. I wasn’t always like this. Going to the gym -in the beginning – was a chore. However, I have really come to respect the magnificence of this machine called the human body. It is amazing to see what your body can actually be capable of – what heights you can push yourself to. You may know what I mean – you just finished doing 40 push ups and just when you thought you couldn’t do any more you then do 10 more. Perhaps before you could never jog or go running but you start out walking and now you enjoy a few miles of jogging each day. I know – I sound like a fitness fanatic – but I’m really not – just a middle-aged mom who is learning to enjoy being healthy, alhumdulilah.

We are so conditioned to assume we can do less than we can – we underestimate our bodies – the fine machine that Allah created for us. Don’t underestimate what you are capable of (with Allah’s help) and never lose hope about what you can achieve with His Guidance, insha’Allah.

Get Rid of that Scale!

Now, I do have one word of advice – get rid of the scale – really. I mean, while being skinny and all may seem great to some of us – it is highly overrated (especially what women today consider “beautiful”). Just consider the lengths these women go to achieve that supposed “perfection”. Starving yourself is just not right – not matter what someone might say – and trust me, your body has a right upon you just like everything else. And – truthfully, your body pays a great deal for any unhealthy behavior – whether it is overeating or starving yourself. Either way, in the end you lose.

You want and need to look at the scale? Okay, fine – but only from time to time. Don’t obsess about it. Instead, focus on what is truly important – eat as healthy as you can – eat in moderation – try to be physically active as often as you can – and try not to sit for too long either. Weighing yourself on a scale is just not a good measure of how healthy you are or how you are improving. I’m not saying that we might not need to lose weight – however, I’m just saying don’t let the weight be your main goal – let good health be your goal. At some point, you will notice changes and most likely the scale will reflect that – but if you only focus on your weight you will easily and quickly become discouraged. Instead – reflect on how you feel – it really feels good to be healthy, masha’Allah.

Is Taking Care of Yourself Really That Strange?

It’s funny because some sisters I know think it is so funny that I exercise. They are always asking “did you go to the gym today” and laugh. No kidding. Some sisters are always looking at me to see if I have gained or lost weight – as if it is some kind of spectator sport. However, I don’t really worry about it. I mean, it’s my health and I know that you cannot change your behavior in one day and see immediate results the next. There are a lot of people out there willing to starve themselves for a lower dress size – but you can’t imagine the negative impact this has on your health. Diets are – in most cases – a temporary fix. If you don’t teach yourself to eat well and the exercise – after the diet is over (or when you fall off the wagon – so to speak) the weight will all be gained back. So, it’s not just about what size you wear – or what the scale says – the important thing is that you are improving your health and you are trying your best to follow a healthier lifestyle – because when you build up good habits – they are much harder to lose.

Just think about it – how long did it take for us to become unhealthy – I’m pretty sure it wasn’t overnight – it took time (lots of it). And – it is also going to take time to improve your health – it is not something immediate. This is especially true if you have lived so many years without making your health a priority. Just like a stone gets smoothed and polished over years and years of water rushing over it – your hard work will see a huge difference at some point.

Just like everyone else, I do get discouraged sometimes – especially at those times when everything I do just doesn’t seem to be paying off (especially when I was using the scale to tell me how I was doing). We need to remember: everything that we do to improve our lives and health will add up at some point and we will be greatly rewarded. Just keep trying! Don’t give up. Remember: anything that is worth desiring – no matter what it is – is not going to be easy. If it is, then it isn’t really worth having.

I have had a different reaction from other sisters – especially from overseas. These sisters tell me how good I look after having three kids. Oh, you are expected to have some fat, right? I guess it is a rite of passage, so to speak. They tell me to stop exercising – “that is crazy” they will say. I don’t know – I guess you can’t convince everyone – however, the changes in the way I feel – in the way I move – tell me I am not wrong.

So, if you are trying to be healthier – keep at it. It will pay off in the end – every step of the way, insha’Allah. If you are trying to eat healthier – realize that sometimes that recipe you try just won’t work out right and even the cat (if you had one) won’t eat it. It happens. However, you will have successes, insha’Allah. In the long run – you will feel better – you will have better moods – you will be more awake – you will be more energized if you take the time to take care of yourself. And – stop and think about this – homeschooling will be a little bit easier because you have a good mood and the stamina to keep going, even when it is rough.

What type of exercise?

Anything that keeps your interest and keeps you going – really! I realize that not everyone can go to a gym – in many places there aren’t any women’s gyms. For some, it is the cost or perhaps having someone to watch your children. Don’t let that stop you! There are many ways to keep an active lifestyle and especially if you are starting out – you might want to start out small anyway. Don’t try to climb a mountain before tackling a short trail.

There are some fitness trends that can be very expensive – and fitness equipment can be very expensive as well. However, there are several things – like walking that hardly need any equipment and can keep you healthier. Walking is especially a good place to start – especially if you have a nice place to walk where you can enjoy the view as well (it makes you forget you are exercising). Bike riding is another alternative – if you have a bike. I was able to find a good exercise bicycle for about $5.00 – it’s a nice one too, an older spin bike (if you can believe that – just 5 bucks!). I use that when I’m stuck indoors. I’ve also found a good road bike for $15.00 at a local garage sale. As my husband always says – people are always buying exercise equipment and not using it – you always find the best deals at garage sales, ebay and on online lists. There are even other ways to keep fit – there are so many fitness trends – hula hooping, jumping rope, martial arts, step aerobics, etc.

I do like jumping rope – I know that sounds strange – but there are a lot of different tricks you can do with a jump rope that can make jumping more interesting. There are even books and videos for rope jumping! I have also tried hula hooping – believe it or not! I actually can do it – but while it really is a lot of work – I don’t feel as energized as when I use an elliptical machine or a treadmill. So, I do these types of exercise with the kiddos. We have fun and it is a bit of exercise, but I couldn’t use these methods as my only way to exercise. I kind of blend them into my routine from time to time – because the kids enjoy it.

I, personally, really love to go to the local women’s gym. During the summer – besides hiking on the weekends, that’s where I spend most of my time exercising. They have all the necessary cardio equipment and also women’s weight machines. It works well for me. However, I have also found many other things that I enjoy – especially if I can’t make it to the gym. I really enjoy Pilates and strength training (lifting weights). You don’t need expensive equipment to do either. I also like martial arts (I have a few videos) and working out on my exercise ball.

During school time – I am a lot busier and have a harder time fitting in exercise. I do my best – but I’m sure I could do better. I usually try to get to the gym at least 3 times a week. When I can’t go to the gym – either the kids are sick or our schedule is too hectic during the day – I will try my best to work out at home in the evening. This is one area where I definitely need to improve – and I have to remind myself all the time that I need to take care of myself.

So, there are many different ways to fit a little bit of exercise into your life – you just have to find what you like and stick with it. I know that doctors used to recommend that you exercise three times a week and nowadays they are saying you have to do it every day. Subhan’Allah – as if your homeschooling schedule weren’t busy enough! However, the important thing is to do what you can. Make sure you schedule time to take care of yourself – you won’t regret it, insha’Allah.

Where can I find other fitness advice?

For those of you who need more advice about exercise – I’m probably not the best person to ask. At least, I’m not an expert. Want to know how much you should exercise and how often – how many calories do you need, etc. There are wonderful places for that – one I would highly recommend is WebMd – because their information is usually pretty trustworthy. I also like their website because they give the pros and cons of the many different types of exercise fads and diets that are around right now. I am sure there are many other good websites. If you have any medical conditions – it is always advisable to talk with your doctor as well. They should also have pretty good advice.

There are also many books available about exercise (how much, how often, what kind) as well as books that just have exercises in them. I actually have a couple of different exercise books – because I have found many exercise videos either overdo it and just go way too fast or underdo it and go way too slow for me. Then you have to worry about what people are wearing and the music and… and… So, I use these books to exercise on my own – and I can push myself as hard as I can and want to.

Now, you will find all kinds of diet and exercise websites – diet and exercise books – all saying the same thing about whatever they are trying to sell you. They say: “buy this product now” and “eat only food from our program now” and they will ensure you success. However, I just don’t believe in or follow any of that. People are just (in my opinion) trying to make a quick buck from something that people need and want – good health. They know there’s a market for it – so they sell it – at a high price (not only the cost of the program – but many of these things are just not good for your health).

I have this mentality . . . If it was not healthy for you to eat meat – why didn’t the Prophet (saw) advocate that diet? Mind you, he didn’t eat meat every day – but he never said that it was unhealthy for us to ever eat meat. If it was not good to eat bread and other carbs – why didn’t the Prophet (saw) advocate that diet? If we truly believe that the Prophet (saw) came to guide us on how to best live our lives – and if we truly believe that the Prophet (saw) lived his life as an example of the guidance of the Qur’an (Allah’s message) – don’t we think that it would have been mentioned somewhere in the Qur’an and Sunnah if these particular foods were not good for us? Instead – you find the Qur’an states in Surat Al-A’raf:

“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)

You will find places in the Qur’an and in the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw) advocating eating in moderation. That, I believe, is where we are going terribly wrong – at least, most of us. If we want to know how to eat better – I think it is best for us to go back to the Qur’an and Sunnah and see what Islam advocates we should do.

I know that there are books out there like the one entitled “Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet” by Imam Ibn Qayyim Al-Jauziyah. I have benefitted from that book greatly, alhumdulilah. There are few things in that book that I ‘m not sure of their authenticity – but there is a lot of good advice there. I take what I know is authentic (backed by Qur’an and Sunnah) and I leave whatever I cannot verify (unless it’s plain and simple good advice). The important thing that we need to know is that there is advice out there – look to the Qur’an – look to the Sunnah – and you will find it. Then, implement it. I am certain, insha’Allah, that your health will improve as a result.

Asalaam ‘Alaikum,
Sumayyah Umm SAA

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10 Responses

  1. UmmH says:

    Jazaakillah khair my dear sister.

    That was a big big help. May Allah help me put your advice in practice and reward you for your time. Ameen

  2. Umm Musa says:

    Assalamu Alaykum sister, Ma sha Allah, this was quite motivating, and eye-opening, because we do neglect our health. JazakAllahu khayran.
    Do you think the above could have been said in fewer words, with less repitition?

  3. admin says:

    Asalaam ‘Alaikum:

    Jazak Allah Khair for taking the time to comment. I went back over the post and made changes where I could – insha’Allah it will make the post easier to read 🙂 Jazak Allah Khair for your advice.

    Please forgive me if you find mistakes on my blog posts. When I am writing my blog – I am only hoping to share with my sisters what I have learned myself – and hope that I am making a difference by sharing. I am not – at least not in this case – writing professionally or things would be more stringent. I do my best to try to write properly (and it usually is a habit) but you stray from time to time – especially when the topic is large like this one. I’ve been super busy – we are trying to enjoy the rest of the summer because school here starts in about three weeks – so I didn’t give this post as much attention as I normally would. If I did, I would have noticed those mistakes.

    As a homeschooling mother – I am limited on my time and I realize that. I’m trying to share – and I may not always be able to worry a lot about a typo here or there. I will do my best – and I expect that of myself – but if there are some mistakes – please forgive me. May you (my readers) and may Allah accept it from me with all the typos and repetition, insha’Allah. Insha’Allah there won’t be too many of those.

    Asalaam ‘Alaikum,
    Sumayyah Umm SAA

  4. Sara H. says:

    Assalam alaykum,

    Thank you for all the work you do on this blog! May Allah reward you for your efforts as I find many things helpful to me and my homeschooling family. I have a question about exercise. Alhamduillah I have been working out on a regular basis since Jan. 2010 and now as Ramadan approaches I am nervous that all my efforts will be lost, what are ways that I can still exercise, keep my muscles and stamina during Ramadan?

  5. admin says:

    Asalaam ‘Alaikum Sara H:

    Alhumdulilah – I am glad you found the information beneficial. I know what you mean about worrying when you stop exercising during Ramadan. I took vacation early this summer and missed quite a few weeks – I was disappointed when I got back to see how I had lost quite a bit of muscle and stamina as well. It’s not easy.

    I’m not sure what you do during the regular part of the year – but when I do exercise during Ramadan – I plan to exercise with a bit less intensity because I don’t want to overdo it. If you lift weights to stay in shape – you could easily still do that – but lift much lighter weights and increase the repetitions. If you normally jog on the treadmill – you could easily instead walk. If you walk with the treadmill going fast and on a high incline you could easily decrease the speed and just increase the amount of time you are on the treadmill.

    If you normally do an intense cardio workout – you could also change to a different type of workout – pilates, for example. With pilates you will still keep your muscles in shape but it won’t be as intense as some cardio options. Also, just take it slow. See what you can do – start out small and if you think you can handle more – try it. Just remember not to overdo it. Also – don’t underestimate the impact walking on its own makes in your healthy lifestyle. During Ramadan last year my husband would return from home and food was already cooked prior. So, we went and walked a mile or so with the kids around our neighborhood just before breaking fast. I wasn’t working out hard – but it helped me to continue to make progress.

    I don’t think you have to work out at exactly the same intensity as you did prior to Ramadan – but if you want to keep the muscle and the stamina you definitely need to do something to keep it. Just take whatever you are doing and decrease the intensity and the speed (if applicable).

    Hope, insha’Allah that helps.

    Asalaam ‘Alaikum,
    Sumayyah Umm SAA

  6. Sara H. says:

    Wa alaykum salam, Thank you for your help! JazakAllah. I do plan on keeping pilates on my schedule and instead of running in the early morning I hope to run right before iftar inshallah. We shall see! Thanks again, Sara

  7. admin says:

    Asalaam ‘Alaikum Sara:

    Insha’Allah my advice will work for you – please check back with me and let me know how it worked out. I’d love to hear!

    Asalaam ‘Alaikum,

  8. umm fatima says:

    Assalaam Alaikum wa rahamat Allah,

    Jazakillahu Khayran for all your thoughts and insights about homeschooling. I remember that I was one of the first people in my city to start the idea of homeschooling and it was a brand-new idea to the Muslim community. We didn’t have the resources or people interested in taking the time to help each other. But Masha’Allah I am feeling proud of the young generation who will become an inspiration for so many muslim families to do homeschooling.

    Assalam Alaikum,
    Umm Fatima

  9. Steph Leigh says:

    What a great article! I found this page googling ‘how to eat and exercise moms’, and I was lucky enough to come across this page. We are a homeschooling family here in Washington state. We started a homeschooling group at our Universalist Unitarian church here in our town, and are always happy to find homeschooling resources from other faiths. I will be taking my quiet morning moments to go through your site.
    Thanks for a great website!

    Stephanie Leigh

  10. Umm Wafiyah says:

    Assalamu alaykum uhkty. I just came across this post. jazakallahu kayran for taking time out to write it. After I had a fourth child, I told myself I don’t want to pile up the weight. With the help of Allah, alhamdulillah I have been nursing my baby and doing light exercise and I am a much happier mummy and a wife.

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