Last week at the sports medicine conference, I talked to a researcher from Kuwait University. Dr. Jasem Ramadan presented a lovely little study called Bioenergetics of Islamic Prayers, measuring the amount of oxygen and calories the physical movements of the prayers burned.

Five standard prayers (Salat) are mandatory every day for every adult male and female Muslim. Each prayer has a continuous sequence of body movements (Rakkas) consisting of standing, bowing, kneeling and sitting. Each Rakka lasts between 3 and 6 minutes. Dr. Ramadan looked at the energy cost of two and four Rakka prayers in thirty-two male and female adults. He found that Salats have a positive effect on metabolic function. For an 80 kg person, energy cost of daily prayers was about 80 calories a day, and could be considered a form of physical activity that enhances fitness.

Dr. Ramadan told me, “The prayers have been done for thousands of years and no one thinks about it as physical exercise.” I told him I think that often. I told him that Russian Orthodox prayer was pretty physical. A liturgy lasts hours, done standing and continuously crossing yourself from the floor in a squat to high overhead. Everyone including the oldest people do this, up and down, and up and down, and up and down, stretching and squatting, reaching and bending. I always thought it was group community health activity, probably found long ago to be protective against many ailments (and attributed divinely). The original yogas were the same, reaching upward to exalt the heavens, bowing, kneeling, prostrating, rising, over and over.

I told Dr. Ramadan that many Westerners aren’t comfortably able to do the kneeling Rakka shown in Healthy Toe Stretches or rise to a stand without using their hands, as in the post Quick and Easy Strength and Balance Exercise, not only the elderly, but the rest of the population too.

He seemed surprised and interested. I told him I believed that this lack of basic human movement for real daily life was a major contributor to the epidemic numbers of people who are too weak and unstable to get up unassisted, to walk without canes and walkers, have trouble taking stairs, have poor balance, and for much knee and hip pain and degeneration. Dr. Ramadan said that elders in his country do not suffer knee and hip arthritis in high numbers, and can easily rise from the floor into their old age. I told him that many Westerners are familiar with a device that is worn, with a button to press for help if they cannot get up from the floor or chair. At this point, he was sure I was kidding.

If you cannot get up from the floor or low chair easily without using your hands, you likely have dangerously decreased leg strength and balance. Use good bending to strengthen your legs and knees many times a day and improve your fitness, explained in the post How Often Should You Be Healthy? Use healthy movement every day to sit, rise, bend right, clean, garden, give thanks, stretch, take stairs, and play to get healthy functional exercise, and prevent common joint pain. That is fitness as a lifestyle.