Exercises for boomers (and why they’re so important)


A year and a half ago, Elliott Haimoff could barely walk down the street without losing his breath. He weighed 285 pounds and, as a busy documentary filmmaker whose job involves lots of travel and sedentary editing work, he rarely took time to exercise or to think about the food he ate.

“I was just so out of control and my eating habits were poor and I wasn’t exercising regularly,” said Haimoff, 60, who lives in Beverly Hills and attends Congregation Mogen David, a Modern Orthodox congregation on West Pico Boulevard. “I just got to a point where enough was enough. … I said, ‘This is it. I’m going to make my last stand.’ ”

So Haimoff began working with a personal trainer, Betsy Mendel, who advised him on ways to improve his diet and started him on an exercise routine. He cut out fried foods, wheat and processed sugar (no more fried chicken, pasta or dessert). He also began working out about three times a week, combining cardiovascular activity — walking or hiking — and weight-bearing exercises using resistance bands and kettle bells. 

Today, Haimoff is 90 pounds lighter and feels several decades younger, too. Instead of just walking to the end of the street, he now enjoys hiking for several miles through the Santa Monica Mountains.

“I feel like I’m 30 again, I just have all this energy, I’m raring to go,” he said. “It’s just made a tremendous difference in my life. I feel like a different person. I definitely think I’ve put some time back on the clock.”

Elliott Haimoff, 60, has lost 90 pounds since changing his diet and starting on an exercise routine. Photo courtesy of Elliott Haimoff

Eating well and exercising are important at all stages of life. But for people 50 and older, diet and exercise become less about looking good and more about staying healthy and improving quality of life, according to Mendel, a Santa Monica personal trainer and author of “Move a Muscle, Change a Mood: The Transformative Power of Exercising, Eating Healthy & Thinking Positive.” 

Mendel, who attends Shabbat services at Nashuva, a Jewish spiritual community based in Brentwood, said exercise after 50 can help counteract some of the negative aspects of aging, such as decreased strength, reduced flexibility, balance problems and poor posture. Exercise also reduces the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, and it increases your chances of living longer. Boomers shouldn’t expect to do the same intensity of exercise as they did in their 20s and 30s, but they can still make dramatic improvements to their health, Mendel said. 

“The endorphins alone — the feeling you get when you work out — you sleep better, eat healthier, are less stressed,” she said. “The goal of exercise after 50 is health and well-being; it’s not physical prowess.”

To get the most from your fitness routine, Mendel recommends incorporating exercises that target five areas: cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, balance and core strength. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise regime, she said, but here are some basic tips to get you started.

Cardiovascular health

Get moving. Cardiovascular exercise can be anything that gets your heart pumping: bicycling, hiking, walking briskly, swimming. Running is not recommended unless you’ve been a runner all of your life, Mendel said. Cardiovascular exercise reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes, lifts your mood and can help with weight loss.

Mendel recommends 30 minutes a day, five to seven days a week, but if you can manage only two days a week, begin with that. “Anything is better than nothing,” she said. 

Strength 

You don’t need fancy equipment or a plush gym membership to work out your muscles. Strength training exercises can be performed using simple items available in sports or department stores, such as dumbbells and resistance bands. You also can use your own body weight. 

Strength training after 50 isn’t about gaining big muscles. Instead, it’s about building muscle mass and strengthening your muscles so that you can continue to do the things you do every day like climbing stairs, carrying groceries and picking up your grandchildren. Building muscle also helps improve posture and increase metabolism, which slows as you age, Mendel said.

She recommends strength training three days a week for at least 30 minutes. Exercises should target both the upper and lower body. For the upper body, she recommends bicep curls, tricep extensions, lateral raises, rowing and pushups. Pushups can be done against a wall if you have trouble doing them on the floor.

For the lower body, Mendel recommends squats and lunges. If you use weights, she recommends women start with 3- to 5-pound weights, and men with 5 to 10 pounds.

Guidelines for all of these exercises can be found online, in many exercise books or by consulting a personal trainer.

Flexibility 

Call it flexibility training or stretching. Like strength training, stretching will help with regular daily activities, such as getting in and out of a car or bending down to pick something off the floor.

“If you haven’t been exercising, you definitely get stiffer as you get older,” Mendel said. “Better flexibility reduces the risk of back pain and muscle pulls. … It just makes you feel more limber.”

A good stretching routine could include arm circles, neck rolls, touching your toes (you can do this while sitting on the floor), calf raises against the wall, hamstring and quad stretches, and side stretches. Mendel recommends stretching for five to 10 minutes every day.

Balance 

Improving balance is key to preventing one of the biggest problems people face as they age: falling. Our sense of balance decreases as we get older. In fact, more than a third of adults ages 65 and older fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Balance exercises can help prevent this problem.

Mendel recommends spending about two to three minutes each day working on balance. This could be standing on one leg while holding onto the wall and then letting go of the wall. Or you could stand on your tiptoes and hold for a few seconds. Yoga poses such as the tree pose also are good for balance, Mendel said. 

Core strength

Working your core means strengthening your abdominal and back muscles and the muscles around your pelvis. Strong core muscles make it easier to do many daily physical activities such as lifting. It also can prevent back pain and help with balance.

Core exercises recommended by Mendel include: crunches, reverse crunches, planks and bicycle exercises on the floor in which you touch your elbows to your knees in a cycling motion. Consult a trainer or exercise book for more guidance on how to do these exercises.

Mendel suggests incorporating core exercise into your workout regime five to seven days a week. Most importantly, whatever exercise you choose, make sure you do it and stay consistent, Mendel concluded. 

“Basically, my philosophy for fitness is really simple: It’s get up and get out and get moving. Anything is better than nothing,” she said.

“Get off your butt.”

Pull up a chair for pilates


Here are three simple exercises you can do anywhere simply using a chair. Try this five-minute routine in the morning with a kitchen chair, or during the workday with a stable desk chair. 

1. Quad stretch

This gentle, standing quad stretch targets your front thigh muscles and your hamstrings, and helps keep your glutes high and tight.

Stand behind a chair with your feet hip-width apart and hold on to the back of the chair. Contract your abdominal muscles, then bend one knee, bringing your heel toward your lower back. Hold for several seconds before lowering your leg back to the ground. 

Repeat several times on each side, making sure to keep your abdominal muscles contracted. 

2. Supported side stretch

This exercise stretches your oblique muscles, which connect your abdominal muscles to your back. It helps keep these muscles in balance and connected, and opens up the back to avoic spasms.

Stand arms-length behind the chair with feet shoulder-width apart, your right hip closest to the chair and your right hand resting on the back of the chair. Raise your left arm over your head, and stretch up and over toward your right. Hold your peak stretch for 10 to 20 seconds. 

Repeat several times on each side.

3. Strengthening hamstrings and opening back

This exercise strengthens your hamstrings and opens up your back, which benefits your glutes and lower back.

Sit up straight in the chair with feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent naturally. Using both hands, grab underneath your right knee and lift the thigh toward your chest. Straighten the right leg until your toes point directly upward. Raise your leg as far as possible without straining. 

Continue to hold underneath your knee for support and point your toes, then flex your foot. 

Lower your right leg, and repeat two more times with the same leg. On the third repetition, move your hands up toward your ankle. Again, point your toes, flex your foot, and then lower leg. 

Place your right ankle on your left knee so that your right knee is pointed out to the right. Slowly bend forward, allowing your back to round over. Hold for a few seconds.

Repeat routine several times on each side. 

Alan Gross: Memory of Holocaust survivor relatives got me through prison


Alan Gross, the American Jewish government contractor who spent five years in Cuban prison, said thinking of his family members who survived the Holocaust was one of three things that helped him get through the ordeal.

Gross told CBS news program “60 Minutes” in footage released Friday that he “had to do three things in order to survive” each day in Cuban jail.

“I thought about my family that survived the Holocaust. I exercised religiously every day, and I found something every day to laugh at,” he told journalist Scott Pelley, in his first interview since being released last December.

In a preview of the episode, which airs in full Sunday night, Gross, 66, of Rockville, Maryland, also revealed that for the first two weeks of his detainment, he was confident he would get out quickly.

Gross, a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development, had been helping connect Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet when he was arrested and charged with crimes against the state.

Gross had traveled to Cuba numerous times as part of a project to connect the Communist-governed island’s small Jewish community to the Internet. On his fifth trip, he was taken into custody and accused of crimes against the state.

Gross was released on Dec. 17, the first day of Hanukkah, as part of a larger diplomatic agreement between the United States and Cuba.

The power of two


Lee Shoag is the kind of husband who tells his wife he loves her wrinkles.

Barbara Shoag says her husband’s excess pounds mean she has more of him to hug.

But when the Reform Jews from Long Beach, both 74, took a whitewater rafting trip several years ago and found themselves easily losing their breath, the couple agreed they both needed to improve their cardiovascular health.

So, at 6 a.m. most mornings of the week, the Shoags head down to Long Beach’s Alpert Jewish Community Center to work out. Barbara, who prefers guided instruction, takes a spin or Pilates class. Lee, a more independent exerciser, uses the elliptical machine and weights. But no matter what type of exercise they each end up doing, the Shoags always make their trips to the gym a joint affair.

“We’ve been married going on 50 years, and we like doing things together,” Lee explained.  “It’s more motivating to have each other.”

When it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, the Shoags have it right. Couples who support each other when it comes to working out, eating right and following the doctor’s orders tend to enjoy significantly greater success in getting and staying healthy than people who embark on such efforts alone, research shows. That’s especially true for people over 50, who typically face greater health challenges as they age and may be more reliant upon each other than in their younger years, experts say.

Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology at UCLA, has studied the issue in depth. He said couples can’t help but affect each other when one partner decides to make a lifestyle change, or is ordered to do so by a doctor. How the supporting partner chooses to respond — or not respond — to his or her loved one’s desire for change is critical to the other’s ultimate success, Karney indicated. 

“What I eat at a table, how much I eat, is powerfully affected by how much the people around me are eating, especially my intimate partner,” said Karney, a secular Jew who lives in Santa Clarita. “What I have to eat in my kitchen is powerfully affected by what my partner shops for when my partner goes to the market. Whether I have time to go to the gym depends on how much my partner is willing to do at home while I’m at the gym.”

These issues and more are addressed in an upcoming book titled “Love Me Slender: How Smart Couples Team Up to Lose Weight, Exercise More, and Stay Healthy Together,” to be released Feb. 4 by Karney and Thomas Bradbury, co-directors at the UCLA Relationship Institute. It outlines several ways partners can help each other implement lifestyle changes. These include creating an environment that is conducive to maintaining a healthy change without resorting to nagging or criticism. For example, if a better diet is the goal, the supporting partner can buy healthier food and avoid leaving junk food where the spouse might see it. If the goal is improved fitness, one could start going to the gym and invite the partner along, Karney said.

Cindi Massengale, fitness and wellness manager at the Alpert Jewish Community Center, said she encourages people who are making lifestyle changes to try and get their partner on board. That doesn’t mean couples have to do the same activities as each other — everybody has different preferences and abilities — but they can be supportive by accompanying their partner in some way, she said. Massengale said she sees many couples like the Shoags who go to the community center together, but one will work out in the gym while the other goes to the library or takes a class. 

“If they’re coming together, they’re more accountable to each other and keeping each other on track,” Massengale said. “Just getting out of the house can be the hardest part.”

One area where couples tend to make mistakes when it comes to healthy lifestyle changes is in communication, Karney said. Conversations about weight, body image and fitness can become very emotional. A spouse might interpret his or her partner’s desire to do more exercise as a criticism of their lifestyle together or might fear their partner wants to lose weight to impress somebody else. It’s important couples take time to understand each other’s perspective and unite around making a change, Karney said. This understanding approach can also be helpful when a partner is struggling to improve habits or follow the doctor’s orders.

“When you’re tempted to offer a criticism or a critique, or make a demand, try asking a question instead,” Karney said. “You might ask, ‘What makes it hard for you?’ You might ask, ‘What are your goals?’ There’s a lot of strength in being heard. … It’s a way to show your understanding, and it’s often a good beginning for making a change.”

Couples can also remind each other of why health changes are important by focusing on a vision of a long-term future together, the professor said. It’s easier to make short-term sacrifices, such as resisting a piece of chocolate cake, when you remember that you’re investing in a happy future with the person you love, Karney said.

Of course, support can come from someone other than a spouse. A six-week healthy living program for seniors run by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles encourages participants to team up with a “buddy.” That could be a spouse, or another course participant, a friend or a caregiver. Participants set weekly goals for themselves to improve their health, and the buddy reminds the person of their goals, makes sure they’re on track and celebrates with them when goals are achieved, said Monica Dunahee, manager of senior adult education, health and wellness. 

“As you become older, its going to be harder to get fit, to eat right,” Dunahee said. “You need someone in your corner, someone to be accountable to and to celebrate with you.” 

Nutritionist: ‘Eat to Win’


We know that a cheeseburger, fries and a soda are not the healthiest of choices, but what about the sushi rolls you had for lunch? A typical roll contains the carbohydrate equivalent of approximately two and half to four slices of bread. 

Registered dietitian Rachel Beller exposes the real nutrients in food with her “Food Autopsy.” In this case, she suggests going light on the rice, opting for brown rice or no rice at all.

While most diets stress what you can’t eat, Beller emphasizes what you can eat and tries to make grocery shopping easy. 

“I find what is simple,” said Beller, known as the celebrity nutritionist from NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” “The difference between getting patients there and getting patients there with confidence is the execution. It needs to be simple and as easy as possible for somebody to start.”

Like many Americans, Beller began struggling with weight gain at a young age, in her case around 11. Although it was never anything extreme, she quickly caught on to how subtle changes in eating created a healthier lifestyle. This transformed into a career that approaches diets in what she believes is a healthy and sustainable way, rather than stressing over calories, carbs and diet fads. 

Beller, a Westwood resident, has created a reputation as America’s get-real nutritionist through her work with the Oxygen Channel series “Dance Your A** Off,” “Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers” show and Glamour magazine. She kicked off the year with her new book, “Eat to Lose, Eat to Win: Your Grab-n-Go Action Plan for a Slimmer, Healthier You.” 

“It’s about time, Rachel!” writes Sheryl Crow in the foreword to the book, in which the singer thanks Beller for changing how she eats. The two met before Crow began radiation treatments for breast cancer in 2006 after Crow’s oncologist contacted Beller. 

The book emphasizes what to eat and how to eat with product visuals, recipes, shopping guides and tips acquired from years of clinical research. From experience, Beller says she found her clients are less intimidated by food shopping when they can reference an image.  

“I have been thinking about it for years,” said Beller who refers to herself as a weight-loss expert with no gimmicks. “It was time. It came to the point where my practice was exploding and it was time to give it [information] away. More people need it.” 

In the book, she reveals her key to weight-loss goals, a nutritional strategy that combines science-based advice with a step-by-step plan. She helps readers understand different types of protein options with her Protein GPS. Her “Flip-It Method” focuses on portion control rather than calorie intake; the base of every meal is vegetables, lean protein, a touch of healthy fat and a small serving of complex carbohydrates. There are snacking tips and more, too.  

“Once I put the book out, I realized I had so much more to say,” Beller said. 

Beller, a registered dietitian whose father passed away from cancer, decided she needed to take a proactive stance in translating scientific research into healthy lifestyle solutions. After studying at California State University Los Angeles, Beller conducted extensive research into the roles of nutrition in cancer prevention at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood and the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica. She also served for a decade as the John Wayne Cancer Institute’s director of nutritional oncology research and counseling.  

“For me, developing relationships is very important,” said Beller, who strives to nutritionally navigate patients through their treatment and beyond. 

Previously, she says, she had worked as an inpatient nutritionist and struggled with developing such interactions and seeing results. Patients were always in and out of the hospital.  

Her years in research were fulfilling, but eventually she decided it was time to transition to private practice. In 2006, she opened the Beller Nutritional Institute in Beverly Hills. 

It wasn’t until Glamour magazine found Beller’s evidence-based weight-loss approach attractive and contacted her in 2007 to help design the “Body by Glamour” section that she began to become an everyday name. Vogue also interviewed Beller, and before long she was contacted to consult and change the way people eat on several TV series. 

Beller says her work is about changing lives and watching people transform their lifestyles. 

“My deepest passion is working with patients who have heart disease or cancer,” Beller said. “When people are going through a treatment, I see their attitude and how they transition.”

Her “Fiber Insurance Strategy,” for example, is critical for cardiac health, but that means getting real fruits and vegetables, not manufactured forms of fiber. She notes that women should get 30 to 35 grams of fiber each day and men 35 to 40 grams. 

 “It’s not just about losing pounds; it’s about seeing cholesterol being lowered,” Beller said. Because a diet high in fiber has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, she includes several recipes in her book that ensure breakfast is packed with at least 10 grams of fiber. Her fiber solutions are even simple for those who are constantly on the run, as it is vital for weight loss and disease prevention.  

Beller, a mother of four children who are all under the age of 13, credits her supportive family for helping her along the way, but really understands what it’s like to be on the go. So she creates plans that work with busy lifestyles.

“People will buy and take anything, but when they have too much going on, then they don’t sustain it,” Beller said. “If the plan doesn’t fit within someone’s lifestyle challenges, then its not so easy.” 

Determined to educate others, Beller volunteers every year to speak at several engagements around the country. It’s the culture she is accustomed to from her days working in the hospital. 

She feels Americans are being pulled in so many nutritional directions, but that things don’t have to be so complex. Success can often come down to something as simple as following a set of shopping guidelines.

“This is a reality check; a get-real moment,” Beller tells her patients. “I am here to say that you can do this.” 

Around the pole in Israel


Pole dancing as a modern sport connects the world of dance—jazz, ballet and cabaret—with acrobatic exercise. The pole serves as the base to perform different acrobatic acts of varying levels of difficulty. Regular exercise clothes are worn, not the sexy revealing garb many imagine, with the stomach exposed in order to allow for friction with the pole and to prevent slipping.

The athletic benefits are abound—they include developing strength, stamina, flexibility, coordination, and rhythm. Many women also report an improvement in their self-confidence, their physical feeling, and their femininity. In Israel, classes and private studios are taking the country by storm. 

Champions

Elisa Palsakova, 26, opened her own private studio two years ago. She has been dancing and exercising since she was 5 years old—everything from acrobatics to ballet. In the last decade, she made aliyah from Moscow. She studied dance instruction and became certified as a personal trainer upon moving to Israel, and when she discovered pole dancing, she fell in love with it. She recently won first place in the International Pole Dance Fitness Association (IPDFA) competitions in Moscow and currently sits on panels of judges in competitions all over the word. She feels it is a great honor to sit amongst the world’s top athletes.

Another Israeli champion is Neta Lee Levy, 31, who won first place in the European championships in Holland. Levy has always participated in sports, and she currently studies at the Circus School in Israel, where she learned the trapeze. There, she began to teach herself pole dancing and developed her technique. Levy is the first person in Israel to perform in street festivals using a pole—as a performer, not a stripper. She opened a studio in Tel Aviv and describes the women who come there and exercise as women who are seeking to boost their self-confidence and sensuality.

The Combat Soldier

Alex Brodeski, 21, is a combat fitness instructor in the army who trains in Palsakova’s studio. “It is a physical activity that is different and challenging for the body using muscles that are not usually developed in other exercise classes,” he explains.

He says that the soldiers he trains know that he pole dances, and admits that he gets teased. “But they are jealous that I practice with girls and ask to come observe classes. I tell them that they can’t observe, they must participate, but they get cold feet.”

The Attorney

Boaz, 33, began training following his first visit to a strip club with his girlfriend. “I saw women dancing on poles and I was in shock at their acrobatic abilities. I wanted to learn the acrobatics. After three months of training, it improved my body image and self-image. My arm muscles are stronger and my stability improved. Yes, it is a sexy dance, but other forms of dance are sexy, too. I am not embarrassed by it.”

The Hassid

Bracha (name changed) usually wears a long skirt and a head covering and works in an ultra-Orthodox college. She is a religious woman, 53 years old, a wife and mother of three. But in the past year and a half, multiple times a week, she has been changing her conservative clothes into short exercise clothes. Along with her 17-year-old daughter Anat, she attends classes in Palsakova’s studio.

“When my daughter told me that she wants to learn pole dancing, I told her that she can only if I chaperone as her bodyguard because who knows who participates in such things. Once I entered the studio, I knew that I wanted to participate as well,” Bracha says.

In terms of dealing with revealing clothing, Bracha started with a t-shirt but says “it was difficult for me to do certain moves, so I started wearing a tank top and shorts.”

Bracha explains that it isn’t easy for her to pole dance with men in the room, but says she won’t quit for that reason. “If there are very sexy exercises, I do them minimally because I am here for the acrobatics and not the dance,” she says. Anat adds that they stand on opposite sides of the room from the men, and because the men are much older, it doesn’t bother her.

Bracha says her husband “understands that for us it is only a sport.”

“He is fine with it, but prefers that we keep it a secret from the community because we are religious,” she says.

“I beat him in hand wrestling, and we bought a pole for the house and he has already tried to swing on it,” Anat says of her father.

Bracha doesn’t tell most of her friends about her hobby “because I don’t want them to think bad things about me.” Anat says, “Some of my friends don’t talk to me anymore because of it, others are jealous but wouldn’t dare try, and others don’t even know.”

Bracha adds, “sometimes religious friends are surprised by my body so I tell them I simply ‘do sports’ without getting into detail.”

An Olympic sport?

Several organizations around the world are trying to recognize the sport, holding regional and worldwide competitions that judge the competitors on strength, flexibility and artistic expression. Points are given to competitors according to the level of difficulty, technique, choreography and stage presence. The smallest mistake in body movement may disqualify a competitor.

The British organization Vertical Dance even recently requested that the Olympic Committee recognize the sport as an official competing sport in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Whether or not their efforts will be successful remains to be seen, but for Israelis—regardless of background—pole dancing is in.

This article was translated by JointMedia News Service from the Hebrew edition of Israel Hayom.

Your sedentary life is getting old


One of the best anti-aging activities you can do for your body is exercise. For years, it has been widely accepted that we start getting slower, weaker and more fragile with age. But more recently, this has been proven otherwise by studies on the cellular process of aging and the impressive performances of older athletes.

Most research is now showing that when it comes to your fitness, if you use it, you lose it far less quickly. And you’ll also age more slowly and have a higher quality of life in your later years.

It can certainly get a bit more difficult to jump, sprint and move just as powerfully as you may have been able to do when you were younger. But most of the fitness loss can be drastically slowed by engaging in regular bouts of physical activity through adulthood and into your older years.

Muscle strength

Weight lifting machines are perfect for introducing a senior to exercise, especially because there is significantly lower risk of falling or injury.

Cardiovascular endurance

Treadmills can easily be used by seniors and can actually help with building both cardiovascular fitness and balance, as a rail is there to help. Elliptical trainers and bicycles are also good for cardiovascular endurance, and for beginners, a recumbent bicycle is a great option.

Metabolism

Rather than simply riding a bicycle at a set pace, seniors should attempt to include a few intervals that involve hard breathing and burning muscles. This will help to boost the slowing metabolism.

Bone density

Bone grows stronger in response to loading and impact. While impact-sprinting on a treadmill may be difficult for seniors, loading of the bones and spinning along the long vertical axis is a very good idea, and can be achieved with exercises such as squats, overhead presses, chest presses or lunges.

Flexibility

While many yoga classes require a degree of balance that can be difficult for seniors, a beginner yoga class is the perfect activity for improving flexibility. In addition, a full-body stretch routine can be included after exercise, when the muscles and joints are more warm and pliable.

A WORKOUT PROGRAM FOR SENIORS

For an aging individual who is just getting into exercise, I’d recommend starting with the following routine, three to four times per week:

• Warm up for 10 minutes on a recumbent bicycle, alternating 2 minutes of easy pedaling with 2 minutes of hard pedaling.

• Perform a full-body stretch, including flexibility moves for the upper and lower body such as arm circles, leg circles, toe touches, reaching for the sky and torso twists.

• Do a full-body circuit on exercise machines that consists of 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions of chest press, seated row, shoulder press, pulldown, leg press, leg extension and leg curl.

• Finish with abdominal bracing on the ground, which simply involves lying on the ground with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor, then pressing the low back down and tightening the abs, holding for 5-10 seconds, releasing, and then repeating for 10-12 repetitions. This does not involve low-back bending and extending, and can build abdominal strength while being easier on the spine.

Remember, it’s never too late to start exercising.

Israel, U.S. postpone joint anti-missile exercise


The United States and Israel have delayed a major joint anti-missile exercise against a backdrop of heightened tensions with Iran.

Sources in both countries said that the exercise, the largest of its kind, would be delayed from its planned spring date until the summer at the earliest.

Reasons for the postponement principally had to do with budget cuts in Israel, an Israeli official said.

However, the cancellation also comes against a background of increasing tensions with Iran, where some officials in the regime have suggested that Iran could shut down the Strait of Hormuz, choking off much of the West’s oil supply, if western nations press ahead with increased sanctions.

Israel Radio reported that the decision came because of “sensitive timing,” without elaborating. It said that U.S. and Israeli officials had decided to postpone the exercise last month.

There have also been reports of increased tensions between the administrations of President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel’s alleged refusal to share with the United States whether or not it plans to strike Iran.

“President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a string of private messages to Israeli leaders warning about the dire consequences of a strike,” the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend.

Obama and Netanyahu spoke on Jan. 12. According to a White House statement, they discussed, among other issues, “recent Iran-related developments, including the international community’s efforts to hold Iran accountable for its failures to meet its international obligations.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, is due to arrive in Israel Thursday.

His visit originally was touted as part of the planning of the joint anti-missile exercise, but reports now say he will press Israel not to strike Iran.

Western nations believe Iran is advancing a nuclear weapons program. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes.

Mind, body and sole


The Grinberg Method, named for its Israeli founder, Avi Grinberg, is described as “a structured way of teaching through the body.” But a better way to explain it is through an example. Let’s take a universal source of anxiety that most women can relate to: waiting for the guy to call after a date.

It’s something Marcela Widrig, one of two L.A.-based Grinberg Method practitioners, encounters often among her female clients.

“First she can get angry with the person — ‘He’s such a jerk,’ ” Widrig said during an interview at her Atwater Village studio, Bodies That Work. “She could feel bad about herself — ‘What did I do wrong?’ She could constantly be checking her e-mails, phone calls. All of a sudden, he becomes the center of her life, after one date.”

The anxiety is often accompanied by physiological changes: tightening of the stomach muscles, tensing of the jaw or erratic breathing.

Through a combination of touch and dialogue, the Grinberg Method practitioner calls attention to what is happening in the woman’s body when she thinks about the anticipated phone call. In doing so, she can break the pattern and allow for fresh ways of experiencing, perceiving and reacting to the situation.

A holistic approach reminiscent of other mind-body therapies — like Hellerwork, the Feldenkrais Method, the Alexander Technique and Rolfing — the Grinberg Method aims to foster self-awareness about limiting beliefs, often inherited from childhood, and sources of pain and fear that often express themselves through the body.

The method combines elements of foot reflexology, acupressure, breath work and deep-tissue massage to treat emotional issues. The method is also intended to treat physical injuries, although its promotional materials carry a disclaimer that it is not intended for serious conditions.

A few days before this interview, Widrig sprained her ankle and planned to treat it with the guidance of Rachel Putter, whose Grinberg Method Center of Activities practice is based in West Hollywood.

“Any time the body gets injured, there’s fear,” Widrig said. “The energy from that is what we use to heal.”

Putter, who grew up in Israel, discovered the Grinberg Method 19 years ago, soon after earning her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. She has taught the method for 12 years throughout Israel and Europe.

“When I got sessions, I saw the effect on my life,” Putter said in an interview at her studio. “Every session would bring me to experience myself in reality in a more authentic way. That is what made me interested in this work, until today. Touch cuts the bull——. You can have a belief of who you are and what you want in your mind. But when you shift your attention to the experience in your body, you can really know what you want and don’t want, what is the thing you are fighting against, and be honest about it.”

The Grinberg Method is new to the United States and is currently offered only in Los Angeles. Local medical and mental health professionals contacted by The Journal were unaware of the treatment. Results of a study conducted by Grinberg practitioners, The Pain Project, are awaiting publication; no independent studies evaluating its effectiveness are available. The method, Widrig and Putter said, reaches clients largely through word of mouth.

Practitioners do not position themselves as a replacement for traditional therapists, although costs could render complementary treatment pricey. Widrig’s sessions go for $120 per hour; Putter’s for $150 per hour. Group classes on wellness inspired by the Grinberg Method are available at lower costs.

Grinberg, born in 1955, developed the method after studying and practicing various healing arts, including working as a paramedic and as a reflexologist. He established a school for his method in Haifa in the late 1980s, and has authored a book on his method, “Fear, Pain and Some Other Friends,” which presents its basic concepts and ways of incorporating them into daily life. After giving a series of lectures in Switzerland to an enthusiastic audience, Grinberg moved his headquarters there, expanding with branches in Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Grinberg’s training in reflexology is reflected in the method’s “foot analysis,” which begins the process. While examining the client’s feet, the practitioner asks questions about beliefs, character and/or circumstances.

“How you walk and move through life is reflected through the feet,” Widrig said.

The technique impressed Josh Kartsch. “I had no idea what to expect, and in the first five minutes I was blown away by what she was saying to me while she was looking at my feet,” the 37-year-old L.A. designer said. “She said so many things that were in my attention but which I couldn’t articulate.”

After several sessions with Widrig, Kartsch signed up for the three-year training course but dropped out when his business took off, thanks, he said, to improved communication the Grinberg Method fostered.

“When I would go through the traditional therapist, it was boring,” he said. “It was nothing compared to what I was getting from the Grinberg Method. … This was totally revolutionary and very immediate — the effects and the changes I was making.”

But trying the method may require a leap of faith for some, Kartsch said. “The Grinberg Method is not for everybody, and it’s not a cure-all. It’s for people who are really willing to try something new and powerful. Not everyone is willing to do that.”

For more information about the Grinberg Method, visit ” title=”bodiesthatwork.com” target=”_blank”>bodiesthatwork.com

Rachel Putter
Grinberg Method Center of Activities, LA
7327 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood
(310) 855-3368

Classes bring a bit of shul to yoga


In a dimly lit room overlooking Santa Monica’s bustling Third Street Promenade, prayers set to electronic music float between bodies in motion. Barely audible over the melodies are the deep exhales of students.

“Shabbat Shalom,” said Zach Lodmer, walking around the room. “That’s something you don’t usually hear in yoga, isn’t it?”

It’s January, and Lodmer is leading the second monthly installment of his Om Shalom Yoga class at The Yoga Collective in Santa Monica, a class that sets traditional yoga sequences to Shabbat prayers.

An attorney by day, Lodmer knows that the concept might sound eclectic — “Some people are skeptical” at first, he admits with a slight grin — but since finding his own connection to the combined practices of yoga and prayer, the 31-year-old hopes to help others in the Jewish community put a new twist on traditional worship.

Lodmer wasn’t always the picture of health. Several years ago, the now-fit yoga instructor smoked, was 75 pounds overweight and was unhappily employed as a prosecutor. It was the birth of his son, he said, that served as the impetus for change and, ultimately, the creation of Om Shalom.

Craving a healthier lifestyle, Lodmer changed his eating and drinking habits and took up yoga. At the same time, he was playing clarinet for Shabbat services at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. He soon realized that his desire to practice a more personal brand of Judaism was in line with his changing health habits.

“We were sitting in a circle, moving through prayers by singing” and playing music, he said. “I began to get interested in including not just [song] but yoga in the Shabbat experience.”

From there, Lodmer, who was raised Reconstructionist, consulted with rabbis and enrolled in a yoga teacher-training program. All the while, he worked on creating the soundtrack for Om Shalom, which would prove to be the linchpin of the class.

“It was a lot of work,” he said, “but as time passed, I made it my own.”

Om Shalom isn’t the first yoga class to incorporate religions other than Hinduism, which is largely credited with the ancient origins of the practice. Rather, Lodmer’s class is part of a growing movement to meld the physical practice and some of the philosophical underpinnings of yoga with Judaism or Christianity.

Ida Unger, who owns Yoga Garden Studios in Tujunga and also teaches, according to her Web site, “yoga with a Jewish bent,” has been studying yoga for several decades and began incorporating components of Judaism into her practice about 10 years ago. She believes that interest in Jewish yoga began gaining steam in other circles at around the same time.

“I think many Jews found yoga as a physical practice, and after a while it just connects to the soul,” she said. “If you have a Jewish soul, it’s very easy to connect to.”

Like many others, Unger sees parallels in the teachings of Judaism and the teachings of yoga. The basic tenets of both, says Rabbi Avivah Erlick, who teaches private Jewish yoga sessions, are very similar.

“The teaching of Judaism involves Torah, mitzvah and study,” Erlick said, “and the four types of yoga are basically study, prayer, holy action and meditation.”

Unger points out the similarity of savasana, or resting in corpse pose by lying still on one’s back, which concludes most yoga classes, and the practice of resting on Shabbat, which is derived from the Hebrew word shavat, in Jewish culture.

In addition to the overlap in ritual and philosophy, many teachers see yoga as a way to add a needed physical element to Jewish worship.

“Judaism is lacking a movement-and-meditation practice,” Erlick said. “I think people can get that from yoga, as a teaching tool as to how to calm oneself, center oneself and be present in prayer.”

Om Shalom — and Jewish yoga in general — is not necessarily for everyone. Lodmer notes, for instance, that he breaks halachic tradition by playing music on Shabbat, which might turn off Jews looking to adhere to the letter of the law.

But for those who are interested, he believes the combination of yoga and Jewish prayer can help people connect to Judaism in a more personal way.

“People are looking for fewer barriers to prayer and to Judaism,” he said. “People are moved by [Jewish yoga]. And if Judaism is not engaging, we’re losing people.”

Within the Jewish yoga community, Lodmer has been welcomed and admired. Unger sees his work as the continuation of a new brand of Jewish worship.

“He’s almost a generation younger than me,” she said. “I think what he’s offering is very exciting.”

Lodmer’s class follows a traditional yoga prototype: sun salutations, standing poses and a flow that builds steadily in intensity and then tapers off into a cool-down. What sets it apart is the music.

Layering prayers like the Sh’ma and Shalom Aleichem over a soothing but vibrant beat so that they correspond with the trajectory of the class, Lodmer creates the music for his class in his free time. It’s no small task — much of his time outside of work is spent either with his family, he says, or refining the Om Shalom playlist.

“Making the music is a second full-time job,” he says.

It seems to be a worthy cause. Back in the studio on that Friday night in January, students leave glowing and happy. Wishing them all a “Good Shabbos,” Lodmer sees them out the door and back into the world.


Om Shalom Yoga
facebook.com/omshalomyoga

Rabbi Avivah Erlick’s Gentle Jewish Yoga
gentlejewishyoga.com

Yoga Garden Studios
11257 Deneville Place
Tujunga, CA 91042
(818) 353-8050
yogagardenstudios.com

Active living is the key to successful aging


Dr. Roger Landry wishes senior citizens would stop acting their age. Landry, president of Masterpiece Living, LLC, a consulting firm for senior communities that emphasize healthy aging, observes, “Nothing in our DNA dictates that we can’t stay vital into old age. We need to adopt a ‘use it or lose it’ approach to our minds, bodies and spirit.”

After all, Landry points out, Grandma Moses began her illustrious artistic career in her late 70s and lived to 101, painting more than 20 canvases in her last year of life. “I hear inspiring stories like this every day,” he said. “Recently, I met a woman who parachuted down to her 90th birthday party.”

You don’t need to parachute into active senior living, but modest exercise is essential. Not only does exercise build muscle tone and strength, it also creates a feeling of confidence and competence. “When you are physically engaged in life, you’re more ready to try other activities,” Landry says.

Ed Abramson may be living proof. Now 86, the L.A. resident is a highly decorated World War II veteran whose bravery earned him a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Presidential Citation, Combat Infantry Badge and numerous other medals. As a member of the Army’s 90th Division, Abramson participated in the landing at Normandy on Omaha Beach.

Abramson retired 17 years ago, having run a sales company specializing in high-end furniture for architects and designers. In that time, he’s developed new interests, taking up oil painting, studying the Torah and exercise — all avidly. His seascapes and still lifes grace the homes of friends who admire his work, and one of his granddaughters has asked him to paint Jerusalem’s Western Wall for her apartment.

He enjoys spending quiet evenings with his wife of 40 years, June, as well as playing with his four great-grandchildren. And, barely one month after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his lung, Abramson still hits the gym three times a week, where he does an eye-popping 125 sit-ups each time, 45 minutes in a combined walk/jog on the treadmill and a variety of other exercises.

“Sometimes I don’t feel like working out, if I’m tired or have aches and pains,” he admits, “but I force myself to go, since I know I’ll feel a lot better afterward. Working out is a key to feeling good,” he says.

A combination of mental stimulation, social connections and physical challenge is a perfect example of what Landry calls successful aging.

“Research has smashed the stereotype that aging means automatic feebleness or crankiness. People who remain physically, mentally and socially active can maintain high levels of functioning well into their 80s and 90s,” he said.

Landry points to exciting research in the last few years that has focused on the importance of “social connectivity” and its connection to overall brain fitness.

“We’ve always known that it’s good to be with people, but there is a physiological basis for it,” Landry says. “The DNA looks different in those who are socially connected than in those who are not.”

For example, the telomere, which is the end of the strand of DNA, gets shorter and shorter as people age. However, Landry says telomeres shorten more slowly in people who stay socially connected, appearing as a younger cell.

People who maintain strong connections with friends, loved ones and confidants also have lower risks of just about every type of illness, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Left unchecked, older adults who lose meaningful engagement with people and activities can become depressed, marginalized by society, losing their physical and mental vitality and becoming at greater risk for assisted living.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Landry said. “Older people can not only continue to have meaning, purpose and activity in their post-retirement years, they may even find a new purpose, unencumbered by work and parenting obligations.”

Landry recommends that older people do the following each day: exercise for at least 30 minutes (though sedentary individuals should check with their doctors before beginning an exercise program), learn something new to stimulate brain function, meet with or call friends, and do anything they find meaningful, such as joining a book or other special-interest club, doing volunteer work or picking up an old hobby.

“Think back to things you may have enjoyed earlier in life, whether it was stamp collecting, crafts, gardening or politics. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a group out there for you,” he said.

Judy Gruen’s most recent book is “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.”

Jewish women change their destinies by testing for genetic mutation


Erika Taylor didn't want to know whether she had the breast cancer gene.

“My thinking was I would never get a prophylactic mastectomy,” Taylor, 44, said of the idea of removing her breasts as a preventive measure. “I just thought it was horrible thing to do to myself, and if I was unwilling to do that, why bother finding out?”

[RELATED: Women support each other in navigating genetic risk]

Her grandmother died of breast cancer at 56, and her mother battled and beat the disease in her 30s. Taylor, who is single and the mother of a 14-year-old boy, always suspected cancer was in her future, but taking steps to confirm that was not something she wanted to do. Until she got her own diagnosis.

A routine mammogram last November revealed early stage noninvasive cancer cells in Taylor's milk ducts, making information about her genetic status vital for determining her treatment.

“All of a sudden, the idea of 'I would never do such a thing' goes out the window,” she said. “It's astonishing how quickly you go, 'OK, OK, what do I need to do? I'll do it.'” Taylor's mother tested first, and when she was identified as a carrier of the BRCA 2 genetic mutation common in Ashkenazi Jews, Taylor tested next. In January, she found out she, too, carries the gene that makes it likely that even if she were to rid herself of her diagnosed cancer, it would probably recur.

Like a growing number of women, Taylor faced both the gift and the terror of knowledge.

One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews — compared to one in 500 in the general population — carries a mutation that gives women a 50 percent to 85 percent chance of getting breast cancer by the time they are 80. The genetic mutation, discovered in 1994, also increases the likelihood of melanoma and ovarian, prostate or pancreatic cancer. While within the general population about 5 percent of cancers can be attributed to a hereditary syndrome, in the Jewish community, that number is closer to 30 percent.

Women’s Heart Health 101


Surprise, cholesterol isn’t all bad. Your body uses it to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that aid digestion. But that doesn’t mean you should make a run for the turkey bacon. That’s because your body makes all the cholesterol it needs on its own, without any extra-fatty foods eaten by you.

More than half of adults have too much cholesterol flowing around in their bloodstreams, a problem that, frighteningly enough, often carries back to their childhoods. Once your total cholesterol reaches 200 milligrams per deciliter, your risk of heart disease increases. And with it, your risk of death from heart disease — the No. 1 killer of women.

But what you may not have heard is that women are less likely than men to keep their cholesterol under control, the American Heart Association reports. But what does your total number mean exactly?

“We’ve discovered that total cholesterol is a meaningless number, at least for women,” said Dr. Barbara H. Roberts, director of The Women’s Cardiac Center at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., and author of “How to Keep From Breaking Your Heart: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Cardiovascular Disease.” “That’s because total cholesterol is made up of several blood fats, including LDL [so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol], HDL [so-called ‘good’ cholesterol] and triglycerides. In women, high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL are more significant risk factors for atherosclerosis [aka hardening of the arteries] than are high levels of LDL.”

Cholesterol, called plaque, can build up in your arteries, the vessels that carry blood full of oxygen and nutrients from your heart and lungs throughout your entire body. High cholesterol has a negative impact on this healthy travel: it encourages the arteries to narrow and block. LDL, the bad type, causes cholesterol to build up in the blood.

Your goal? Keeping your LDL down.

“To lower your cholesterol the drug-free way, eat a plant-based diet, quit smoking, do lots of aerobic exercise, keep your weight under control and don’t fall for the low-fat diet fad,” Roberts said. “Eating low-fat is counterproductive for women because it lowers your HDL; that is, your good cholesterol.”

How to Make Healthy Cholesterol

Forget low-fat diets, and make room for monounsaturated fats in the foods you eat.

“The best type is olive oil,” Roberts said. “If your HDL is low, you should eat between two to three tablespoons per day — either straight from the spoon or drizzled on salads or cooked vegetables, substituting it for saturated [animal] fats like butter or polyunsaturated fats like corn oil.”

And women actually need more of this healthy cholesterol than men do. The lower limit of normal HDL in women is 50 milligrams per deciliter, while in men it’s only 40 mg/dl.

It’s Good to Be a Girl

If you’ve ever blamed your hormones for tears and moodiness, here’s one thing to say “thank you” for: Estrogen may actually help protect you against heart attacks, says Dr. Robert H. Eckel, spokesman and former president of the American Heart Association. From the time your body starts producing it at puberty until production falls in your mid-50s, you’ll have higher levels of HDL than the men around you. Because women make estrogen and men make androgens, women are less likely to have a heart attack than men are (until they reach menopause, that is, when both estrogen and HDL levels drop).

And the Number Is…

“Once you’ve reached your 20th birthday, your doctor should order a full cholesterol panel,” Roberts said.

This is nothing more than a fasting blood test (you can’t eat or drink anything with calories for 12 hours before), but it shows your doctor crucial numbers for assessing your risk of heart disease: your LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. If your doctor hasn’t ordered one, go ahead and ask about it yourself. Having a family history of heart disease makes knowing your numbers even more essential.

Take a look at your numbers with your doctor, and set a goal level as to where your LDL should be. If you have no risk of heart disease, yet your cholesterol numbers are less than optimal, your goal should be 160 milligrams per deciliter; if you have more risk factors, such as a family history of heart attacks, your goal should be 130 milligrams per deciliter. And if you already have heart disease, your goal should be 100 milligrams per deciliter at the very highest.

Change Your Lifestyle First

Before you blindly pop the cholesterol-lowering pills your doctor prescribes (likely statins, the go-to med for high cholesterol), consider changing your lifestyle first. According to a study from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, 71 patients who had been prescribed statins to bring their “bad” cholesterol down weren’t eating any more saturated fat six months later, as many medical professionals assumed they might (perhaps counting on the medication to make up for a steak or two). Some patients also said they would have preferred to try lifestyle changes before taking the drugs.

And in many cases, lifestyle changes may be all it takes to make a difference. In a five-year study of 535 premenopausal women, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health found that lifestyle changes, such as exercising and following a healthy high-fiber diet were able to control increases in LDL cholesterol.

As a Last Resort

If your LDL still hasn’t dropped after one month to six weeks of a high-fiber diet it may be time to try statins, Eckel says, but keep in mind that once you start taking them, you’ll probably have to stay on them for life. Before your doctor writes up a prescription, take a test to make sure you don’t have kidney, thyroid or liver disease, all of which can also mimic high cholesterol.

Jenny Stamos writes about health, nutrition, psychology, work, money and love for magazines such as Self, Shape, Glamour, Women’s Health, Prevention and Woman’s Day.

Israeli spas may be just the thing for what ails you


Miracles in the Holy Land aren’t only of a spiritual nature. Israel also boasts a long list of spas with amazing healing properties.

Here’s a look at some appealing and pampering clinics. They all offer mineral-rich mud packs and other treatments to ease sore muscles, arthritis pain, asthma, psoriasis, eczema and other conditions. Of course, they also remedy ailments of the spirit.

Carmel Forest Spa Resort

Hidden among pine trees at the peak of Haifa — a northern city stretching from the Mediterranean to a mountain top — Carmel Forest Spa is a former sanitarium for Holocaust survivors. Renovated in recent years, it is now the definition of luxury.

Carmel Forest Spa is only accessible by private car or cab, but once you arrive, there is little reason to leave due to the lectures, concerts and various kinds of exercise options that include fitness walks, tai chi, yoga, meditation, aerobics and even swimming lessons. Rooms all have a view of the sea or the forest and are stocked with plush robes that cam be worn everywhere. Meals include options for low-fat and low-sodium dishes and dining on a verandah overlooking the Mediterranean.

Nearly every imaginable treatment, such as mud wraps, cranio-sacral balance and body peeling with water jets, are available. But the pinnacle is a 75-minute, four-handed ayurvedic massage ($115), an Indian treatment intended to calm the mind and eliminate toxins from the body.

The spa also boasts a beautiful mosaic on the floor of an Olympic-size swimming pool and an adjacent Jacuzzi. In the coed marble Turkish bath, visitors — clad in bathing suits — scrub down with complimentary disposable loofas or enjoy a massage.

In the afternoons, guests munch on complimentary cakes and blend their own herbal infusions in the lounge upstairs. The evenings feature lectures and concerts, or you can enjoy dinner on the veranda and then relax in the lounge.
For more information, call (011) 972-4-8307888 or visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mizpe-hayamim.com.

Dead Sea

The shores of the lowest place on earth are stocked with spas. And the Dead Sea, at 1,378 feet below sea level, fills the spas’ pools with unique, mineral-rich waters that are calming and curative for skin disorders, arthritis and respiratory ailments. You can also give yourself a do-it-yourself spa treatment by spending a few hours at the separate beaches for men and women south of the hotel strip.

At the women’s beach, for example, the “sand” inside the seawater is actually consistently clean salt. While standing in low water, you can relax as if sitting in a recliner. Because of the incredibly high salt content, guests float with great ease. Tiny cuts in your skin sting, but if you can, try to remain in the water for at least 20 minutes to soothe achy muscles and joints.

If you’re up for it, scoop up the salt sand in your hands and rub it over your skin for a “salt glow.” This is the same kind of exfoliating treatment offered at local spas.

If you’d like to try the classic mud of the Dead Sea, stop at any of the local shops, where you can pick up a package of smooth and creamy mud for a few dollars. Place it in the sun while you soak to warm it up.

After you emerge from your first dunk, rinse off in freshwate
r at a beachside shower, then smooth on the mud. After it dries completely, return to the sea to rinse off, rubbing your skin clean with a second round of exfoliation. Rinse once more in the freshwater and your skin will be remarkably soft. Wrap yourself up in towels and relax in the sun.

Because the Dead Sea is at the lowest point on earth, you can stay much longer in the sun without burning than at any other place on the planet.

Alter Kayakers make waves in Newport Bay


Every Thursday morning, 11 supremely fit old men come thundering into Newport Bay, rounding up all the good rental kayaks on the Balboa Peninsula and singing at the top of their lungs.

Most are major fundraisers for Heritage Pointe, Orange County’s Home for the Jewish Aging, and they call themselves the Alter Kayakers.

The name was a natural, said Stan Sackler, 70, of Newport Beach, a retired fuel dealer, who was already a member of a Jewish cycling group in Fullerton called Shlemiels on Wheels.

Sackler and Steve Fienberg, 67, of Irvine assembled the group four years ago, and let Howard Weinstein, 72, of Corona del Mar coin the name. They’ve never had a slow moment since.

“I look forward to this all week,” Weinstein said. “I can’t wait for Thursday.”
Not that Weinstein, or any of the other Alter Kayakers, lives in the slow lane the rest of the week.

Weinstein hiked and rode horseback through Patagonia for 18 days last fall. He plays tennis four times a week, works out with a personal trainer twice a week and he’ll have to miss the Alter Kayakers’ February cruise to Mexico because he’ll be in Botswana.

“I figure that if I stay active when I’m 72, I’ll still have a life when I’m 92,” Weinstein said.

The Alter Kayakers stand out for their awesome endurance and robust bearing, and they cram their days with endless bicycling, hiking, tennis, martial arts and river rafting. But no one has to quit when his abilities falter.

Seymour Lobel, 77, a retired auto financier from Corona del Mar, for example, has lost much of his vision. Other members of the Alter Kayakers drive him to Newport Bay each week, and in the water, someone always keeps an eye on his kayak.

Members love to reminisce about their Kern River rafting trip last September, when the raft overturned and all the members were dumped into the churning river’s Class 4 rapids. Stronger members helped stragglers get back onto the raft, and the team spirit that prevailed made even these tough men of steel mist up for a moment.

Two seconds of sober reminiscence passed, and then Weinstein said, “Stan Sackler, wearing a hearing aid, came damn close to getting electrocuted.”

Ephie Beard, 75, a Newport Beach resident of 13 years who owned car auction businesses in Anaheim and Fontana, introduced the Alter Kayakers to whitewater rafting.

“I’d been doing it for 21 years,” he said. But the day the raft flipped, he said, “it was pretty scary for some of those guys.”

But all this running around without performing a few mitzvot is against Alter Kayaker rules.

“We all try to do something for the Jewish community,” said David Stoll, who owns a boat engine business in Newport Beach. “Most of us are Diamond Donors to Heritage Pointe in Mission Viejo. My personal feeling is that you have to pay your Jewish dues. If you don’t pay the community back, it really gets on our nerves.”

Two of the Alter Kayakers aren’t Jewish, but they’re treated like Members of the Tribe. Stan Angermeir, 67, a nursing home operator who lives on Lido Isle, belongs to Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana with his Jewish wife. Wayne Harmon, 69, of Corona del Mar, the other non-Jew in the group, has a serious relationship with a Jewish woman.

“Believe it or not,” joked Stoll, 68, “we made Wayne our treasurer.”

“But we don’t have anything in the treasury,” added Stackler, a former director of the Orange County Jewish Federation.

Every year, the Alter Kayakers hold an awards ceremony.

“Everyone wins first place in something,” Stoll said. “Wayne Harmon won first prize for looking the least Jewish.”

Most of the Alter Kayakers are retired or semiretired professionals or businessmen.

Arthur Friedman, 71, of Balboa was a dermatologist. Sid Field, 77, who lives in Newport Coast, was a dentist. Robert Baker, 64, of Newport Beach and Fienberg were lawyers.

Weinstein was a pharmacist who became a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Harmon was an executive with J.C. Penney. The rest were entrepreneurs.

When they gather, they are sure to sing “Kayakers’ Spirit,” their own anthem, sung to the tune of the “Illini Fight Song.” Field, a University of Illinois alum, wrote the words. The anthem concludes their weekly Thursday ritual, which starts with a 4-mile, one-hour kayak expedition into Newport Bay and progresses to lunch at Newport Landing Restaurant.
“Same seats or we forget the name of the guy next to us,” Sackler explained.

Same menu, too, it turns out: A half portion of Caesar, Cobb or chicken avocado salad. Ironmen feasting on salad fragments?

“Some members are on diets or too cheap to buy a whole salad,” Weinstein said. “One member who shall remain nameless orders a sandwich off the menu, and he is penalized by getting a separate check.”

The Alter Kayakers say they don’t accept new members.

“Our membership is now closed because the group has such good chemistry, and we don’t want to tamper with it,” Fienberg said. “Also, the place we rent kayaks from only has about 11 good kayaks, and more than 11 for lunch is a bit much.”

They also discourage lunch guests.

“You must be mishpachah,” Weinstein said. “You can be a ninth cousin, but you have to be in the family.”

All but one of the Alter Kayakers are married, nearly all to their first wives — Stoll for 42 years, Baker for 41.

“My wife loves it,” Weinstein said. “It gives me an opportunity to socialize with the boys and to go out and exercise.”

There are no greens fees or memberships to eat away at the family budget; it costs $10 to rent a kayak.

So far none of the Alter Kayakers’ wives has taken to renting a kayak of her own.
“My wife came out with me in a tandem in Newport once,” Sackler said, “and loved it as long as I did the paddling.”

There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on over Power Plate


Remember those machines from the 1950s that used to jiggle a person’s fat in an attempt to rid the body of cellulite?

These days, a more sophisticated generation of those machines, which vibrate the entire body, is claiming it can do a lot more than eliminate cellulite.

Proponents say whole body vibration can increase muscle strength and flexibility, fight osteoporosis, improve balance and posture, increase circulation and reduce pain.

But skeptics say the claims are highly exaggerated, and that the machines might actually be dangerous. They want consumers to exercise caution if they’re going to use them.

Unlike those old-fashioned machines, the new technology relies on more aggressive vibration to stimulate muscles. One of the most popular, the Power Plate, features a vibrating platform that oscillates 30 to 50 times per second. Each time, it stimulates the nervous system and creates a reflex in the body that causes the muscles to contract.

Recent news reports say celebrities like Madonna and Heidi Klum are using it in their workouts, and the Power Plate Web site lists dozens of college and professional sports teams as using vibration training in their regimens, too.

“You’re getting a lot more muscular activity,” said Dennis Sall, a chiropractor in Mount Sinai, N.Y., who began using the Power Plate to train his patients about a year ago. “This is a great way to jump start the metabolism.”

Ultimately, he said, that causes the body to burn more calories.

Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, said that’s true.

“There’s no doubt that the muscles are contracting, and you’re burning calories and strengthening muscles at the same time,” he said.

However, he thinks it needs a lot more research to back up the claims that the machine can do a lot more than just build muscle.

A quick glance at the “applications” portion of the Power Plate Web site indicates that the device can play a significant role in anti-aging, sports performance and rehabilitation. One section seems to imply that it can be used to treat everything from emphysema to multiple sclerosis to whiplash.

According to Scott Hopson, director of research, education and training for Power Plate USA, dozens of studies using Power Plate have been published in peer review journals, including the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, the American Journal of Geriatrics Society and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

“It’s very effective for improving balance, strength and preventing the muscle and bone loss that comes with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and cerebral palsy,” he said. “One of the biggest secondary impairments of degenerative diseases is loss of muscle fibers and the ability to use them.

Vibration is a great for fighting against that.”

Hopson added that studies have shown that vibration can increase blood flow to muscle, tendon and ligament tissues and stimulate the release of hormones that are needed for healing damaged tissues.

But Westrich said it’s not the quantity but the quality of the research that concerns him.

“If you go to their Web site and look at all their studies, there is not very good science behind it,” he said. “I found only a few randomized prospective studies. There is some basic science studies about vibration … but a lot of it has nothing to do with their particular device.”

For example, many of the studies on osteoporosis, which are cited in Power Plate’s information packet, were conducted by Clinton T. Rubin, a professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Rubin, furious that his studies are being used by the company, said, “I’ve never studied the Power Plate at all, and the vibration magnitude we used was 50 times lower than what they are using.”

Rubin works with a different company that also makes a vibration machine but one that uses much less intensity. He said his research shows that minimal vibration can stimulate bone growth, but he said, “Power Plate misuses that.”

“I’m furious that what Power Plate is doing is dangerous to people,” Rubin said. “It’s dangerous because there is a huge scientific body of evidence that high vibration magnitudes can cause lower back pain, circulation disorders, hearing loss, balance problems and vision problems.”

Dr. Jeffrey Fine recently ordered two Power Plates for two hospitals that he works at.

“Physical medicine rehab is a specialty where we apply different types of physical energy for physiologic benefit,” he said. “We considered this a newly identified modality to treat a variety of different medical conditions.”

Currently, Fine is looking into how the Power Plate will help patients with impaired sensation from diabetic neuropathy. He pointed to studies conducted at Harvard University that demonstrated how other devices that incorporate vibration technology have proven useful in stimulating multiple joints and ultimately improving balance and gait problems.

Westrich still isn’t convinced vibration technology is for everybody. For one thing, he’s not sure how useful it would be to treat osteoporosis in his elderly patients.

“I’m not sure they can tolerate being vibrated like a piece of Jell-O,” he said.

Debbe Geiger is a freelance writer specializing in health and science.

‘Sex and the City’ Workout


“You’re joining a gym again?” I laughed. “If you could get back even half the money you’ve spent on gym memberships, you could go to Hawaii!”

“This time it’s different,” my friend said. “I’m joining that new one right by the mall. It’s so convenient, I can’t not go! And I’ll even use my free sessions with the personal trainer. I swear to you I am not throwing my money away this time.”

Where have I heard that before? Gym joiners are a dime a dozen here in fitness-obsessed Los Angeles. And you can’t drive three blocks without seeing some kind of gym or studio. Where I live, every time a new Starbucks pops up so does another gym. But I gave up on gyms long ago.

I joined my first gym while in college. My friends and I signed up for a three-month trial together, intending to rid ourselves of the proverbial freshman 10 — the end result of late-night doughnut runs.

We went religiously for three weeks, and then at least twice a week for three weeks after that, and then once in a while for three more weeks, and then we took a break for finals. After finals, the excuses began: “I have too much studying to do.” “I have a date.” “My sister has my car.” “I need to go shopping.”

We didn’t sign up again when the three months ran out.

Over the years I joined a few more gyms, always with the best intentions. But eventually my motivation to workout just wore out. For every reason there was to go, I had at least three reasons not to.

After I swore off of gym memberships, I decided that I needed to come up with different incentives to get moving. I used my dog. My dog loves to walk, and I love my dog. But dogs tend to stop frequently, and my dog must have been concerned that the female dogs on our block were not aware of his existence. So even though our walks were delightful, it became less of a fitness routine and more of a way for my dog to mark his masculinity.

Although the dog-walk routine didn’t pan out, a bit of canine inspiration led me to a workout regimen that finally worked.

When I next ran into my gym-joining friend, she was sipping a low-fat frap at the Starbucks next door to her new gym.

“Hey! How’s the new workout?” I asked.

“Um, good. The trainer was great, but kind of expensive once the freebees ran out. The locker room is very clean, and the juice bar totally yum,” she said, diverting her eyes and concentrating on the whipped cream oozing up her straw.

“You quit, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly,” she said.

“You stopped going?”

“I just needed a break.”

“I told you so,” I said as I ordered a tall decaf latte.

“OK, so you did,” she said defensively. “And what about you? What are you doing for exercise?”

I raised my eyebrows and smiled coyly. “I invented my own routine. I call it the ‘Sex and the City’ Workout,” I said.

“I’m intrigued,” she said. We took a seat in a quiet corner in the back. “How does it work?”

“Do you remember Pavlov? Well, I now am conditioned just like his dog.”

“You drool?”

“Don’t be silly. I developed a system so that I associate exercise with something I really want. I got an elliptical machine and put it in front of the TV.”

“I bet you hang your dirty clothes on it.”

“I do,” I admitted. “Exercise equipment always turns into a clothesline. Anyway, the trick to my workout is DVDs of ‘Sex and the City.'”

“I don’t get it.”

“I love watching ‘Sex and the City,’ right? Well, I allow myself to watch only if I am on the elliptical. So just like Pavlov’s dog learned to associate the bell with food, I associate exercise with my favorite show. If I want to watch, I have to workout. It’s that simple. I got caught up in season five one night, and when I looked down I had burned more than 3,000 calories.”

“That’s amazing!”

“It’s the best idea I ever had. My regular workout consists of two episodes — first episode on the elliptical and second episode stretching and lifting weights.”

“Wow,” she shook her head. “You do look, uh, pretty fit.”

I showed her my upper arm and allowed her to poke my bicep.

“I’m not only in shape,” I bragged, “I am also the ‘Sex and the City’ trivia game champion. I was the only one in my havurah who knew where Carrie and Miranda bought their cupcakes.” (Magnolia Bakery.)

“So you just watch ‘Sex and the City’ over and over?” she asked.
“When I could recite Carrie’s lines as well as she could, I decided to move on. So I addicted myself to ‘Gilmore Girls,'” I said.

“Ooooh, I love that show!”

“Then ‘The Sopranos,’ ’24,’ ‘Will and Grace’….”

Botox Treatments Aid Stroke Survivors


Until recently, significant recovery from the physical and mental losses inflicted by a stroke was thought to be limited to a matter of months following injury to the brain, using conventional physical and occupational therapy. Now patients supplementing this with novel treatments, including an innovative use of Botox and a variation on old-fashioned plaster casts, are demonstrating that aggressive long-term therapy can increase the likelihood of complete recovery after a stroke.

One such patient is art curator Meg Perlman, who not too long ago spontaneously applauded at a jazz concert, clapping her hands together for the first time in 19 months. This was another small triumph in her major recovery from a stroke that had initially paralyzed her left side.

Caused by a clot or a ruptured blood vessel in the brain, stroke is the leading cause of severe disability today. In the United States alone there are now some 5.4 million stroke survivors, with nearly one in three suffering from permanent disabilities.

“When I went to medical school, the prevailing view was that you lose nerve cells and that’s it, you’re not going to get better. We know now that’s not true. The brain is plastic. It can remodel itself,” said Dr. Steven Flanagan, associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and the neurophysiatrist treating Perlman.

One recent study showed that therapy could benefit patients who had suffered a stroke more than a decade earlier.

“It’s not something magical that happens in the brain and everyone will recover,” he warns, “but the brain has a greater capacity to recoup from injury than we thought in the past.”

Dr. Steven R. Levine, professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, admits that medicine “still doesn’t know the underlying mechanisms in different phases of stroke recovery.”

Such understanding would make it possible to individualize treatments for most effective results. On the horizon, experiments in mice and some early human trials show promise for enhancing stroke rehab with stem cells, growth hormone, amphetamines, even Viagra.

“Not everyone will improve,” Levine said, “but you never say never and you never take away hope from people.”

Anatomy of a Recovery

Stricken at the young age of 53, physically fit and intellectually active, Perlman has been a prime candidate for total recovery. She’s come a long way since her stroke in August 2003 while vacationing in the south of France. When she awoke on what should have been another day in paradise, she was semiparalyzed and confused. Her husband, author Doug Garr, immediately understood what had happened.

“Her left side was immobile. The left side of her face was frozen,” he recalled. “I recognized it as a stroke because I had seen my father have a stroke two weeks before he died.”

Perlman spent two weeks in intensive care at one of France’s leading teaching hospitals, then was transferred to Mount Sinai’s brain injury rehabilitation unit for another six weeks. There, days filled with physical and occupational therapy helped her reprogram her nervous system to regain control over posture and movement on her left side, and to relearn vital everyday tasks.

Better known for cosmetic enhancement, Botox injections immobilize key muscles in stricken arms or legs, allowing physical therapy and exercise to extend range of motion and flexibility. Effects wear off, so the Botox is reinjected every three months for a year or more. In Perlman’s case, it was the second dose that allowed her left hand to flex out enough to applaud at a concert, after successful attempts during therapy sessions at home.

With research in rehabilitative medicine generally underfunded, doctors don’t have data from large clinical trials to properly assess new treatments. Often patients proceed by trial-and-error, sampling therapies from the exotic to the high-tech; Perlman has had mixed results with acupuncture and with an electrical muscle stimulation device called a NeuroMove.

Then again, low-tech plaster of Paris has proven extremely effective. Called “serial casting,” a monthslong treatment involves stretching affected muscles with a series of plaster casts on an arm or leg for weeks at a time, followed by physical therapy to secure gains in flexibility. Perlman’s latest leg cast had just come off when she was able to stretch the toes on her left foot out and wear a shoe.

By all her therapists’ accounts, Perlman has shown exceptional resolve in fighting the fatigue, discomfort and frustration that are part of stroke recovery.

She has also had to battle the severe depression that a stroke leaves in its wake.

Flanagan observes that depression should be treated early and aggressively in stroke patients.

“We know that happy patients do better in rehab than sad patients,” he says. “We have to help them get the most out of their time in therapy.”

Fuller recovery from stroke takes a loyal, experienced team of therapists. With them, Perlman still keeps up a rigorous schedule of five physical therapy and two occupational therapy sessions a week at home.

“I expect to be 100 percent back,” she said. “I won’t stop until I am.”

She’s thankful for her “wonderful personal team,” including the friends and clients who rallied to her side after she was stricken.

Also appreciated: an occasional boost from strangers.

“I was walking to a restaurant with my cane. A short, Russian-looking man came up to me and said: ‘Did you have a stroke?’ I said ‘yes.’ He jumped up in the air and said: ‘So did I and look at me!'”

Steve Ditlea writes for the New York Daily News.

A Torah Trek to Find a ‘God Moment’


It’s a Sunday afternoon in midwinter Los Angeles, the sun is sparkling, the temperature is perfect, I’m in one of the most beautiful settings anyone can imagine, and I’m supposed to be talking to God. I’m sitting alone in a lush, grassy field near a rustling brook, mountains surround me, birds are chirping, the smells of nature are excellent and all I can think of is whether I should eat that last bit of leftover lunch that I still have in my backpack.

It is an especially untimely moment to be pondering such a mundane question, because on this day, I’ve joined 14 adults on a daylong excursion in Malibu Creek State Park led by Rabbi Mike Comins, who runs Torah Trek, Spiritual Wilderness Adventures. Whether it’s a one-day exercise for first-timers — like ours is — or a multiday meditative adventure, the idea is to spend time studying Torah, reading, thinking, meditating and seeking a “God experience,” as Comins calls it. We are now at the ultimate moment of the day, the portion called “hitbodedut,” which translates from the Hebrew as “to be alone.”

So I’m on my own, tackling the task of connecting to God, and I’m doing just about anything but. The act of meditation, never my strength, seems particularly contrived for me on this day. Add God to the mix, and my sense of failure multiplies.

A soft wind blows across my face, ruffling my hair ever so slightly. Is that God? A blue jay flits, determined in its search for some unknowable purpose. Is that? I watch as a small biplane flies overhead, and I’m sure that its passengers are feeling more awe than I am, but are they having a close-to-God experience? Up in the sky, do we feel more spiritual? Is it easier to feel God’s presence when we’re above everyone else?

OK, I’ve got about another 20 minutes of solitude to go. So far, I must be completely off track.

I live in the heart of urban Los Angeles in a house that looks out on urban sprawl, with a view, too, of the much-utilized Griffith Park. There is no silence in the city, but I’ve grown used to that. There are trees and a little grass, but not much in my neighborhood. I appreciate the beauty of our Southern California climate, but I rarely feel the transcendence of nature in my daily life. In honor of Tu b’Shevat, in hopes of connecting to a greater sense of our natural world, I’ve come on this hike.

Comins believes that Jewish practice has lost its connection to our ancestors’ roots, which lie, as we all know, in the Torah but also in the connection of the Torah itself to nature, even to the wilderness. Yet, for most of us, as Comins explains at the start of the day, the essential experience of Judaism has become a series of stories and edicts, rather than an experience or a communing. So, through trial and error, and in concert with a small community of fellow spiritual naturalists, he’s attempting to connect the dots.

“If you ask people where they are likely to find a ‘God moment,’ they say in nature,” Comins says in his introduction to the day, which began at 9:30 a.m. with the group of us sitting on dewy grass at the entry to the wilderness park. “If we have this arena where the issue of God is not contrived, and, at the same time, our greatest challenge in Jewish education is finding God, then one plus one is two.”

Comins, 49, grew up in Studio City; he had a classic suburban childhood interspersed with regular family camping trips to Yosemite. When he decided to make aliyah and moved to Israel, he says, he initially considered his backpacking career a thing of the past. He studied to become a Reform rabbi in Israel, and as he sat in front of a library computer screen for days on end, working on his thesis, he says, “I felt less and less God in my life.”

” target=”_blank”>www.torahtrek.com.

 

Fit L.A. – Let’s Take a ‘J-Walk’ Around the Block


I enjoy walking if it’s through a store during a sale or to show off a grandchild. But walking for the pure fun of it isn’t fun for me. The last time I exercised was when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles, and I jumped up and down in the living room as they played.

Enter the Neshoma Orchestra and their two CDs to walk by, “J-Walking” and the recently released “J-Walking the Next Step.”

After schlepping 40 years in the desert, it’s hard to imagine a CD to exercise by coming from a people who have harbored a subconscious distrust of walking. But with my daughter’s upcoming nuptials, my unending kvetch about fitting into the dress won out over my skepticism.

Tuesday, 8 p.m.

I dusted off the portable CD player, stuck an earphone in my ear, put on as flattering an outfit as I could conjure up and hit the open road, one foot in front of the other.

Before I knew it, I had gone a block, then two, humming along with the familiar Yiddish melodies that played faster and more upbeat than I ever remembered. Strains of “Chabibi” coursed through my veins.

My mother’s Yiddish musical selections ran more toward, “My Yiddish Mama” and “Make Mir a Bisala Yingala” from The Barry Sisters. “Sob Your Heart Out Greatest Hits.”

So there I am, walking along at a jaunty pace, humming and moving without my usual stops to check the time, but actually enjoying the pace.

At three blocks I began forcing myself to ignore the objections of my feet and focus on the beat.

I had made it through four songs and I was feeling empowered. Suddenly, the old anti-exercise gene kicked in and my body began to rebel and slow the pace. I fought valiantly and luckily, the next selection was more upbeat. I kicked into overdrive to “Reb Shlomo’s Niggun.”

I was feeling good, and a bit shocked that I had just absorbed five Yiddish songs without shedding a tear.

I decided to push my luck, so I kept walking, farther than I had planned. I wasn’t sure if it was endorphins or the music, but I was feeling good; so good in fact, I pressed forward, another street, another, until I had gone farther than ever before.

I was pretty sure that by now, my pushy Jewish genes had taken hold, awakened by the chemicals released in my brain to combine with more than 5,700 years of feistiness.

Whatever it was, it was working, so I tested myself even more and attempted an uphill walk. This was major since the flat terrain was enough of a challenge.

I looked up toward Sunset Boulevard. It could’ve been Mount Sinai. Oy, that’s steep, I thought. But I was pumped with Yiddishkayt and defeat was not an option. I began the ascent. Gevalt, could I be this out of shape?

The songs had gotten to me and Yiddish was flowing out of my mouth now like lies from a politician. “Hodu” suddenly kicked in, and so did I. Breathing heavily, I climbed ever upward, inspired, pumped, lungs aching, feet screaming obscenities. I could not be stopped. I was a Jewish walking machine, sucking in air as I ascended higher and higher toward Sunset Boulevard. Mouthing silent oys as I schlepped, the beat growing faster and more upbeat, I was inspired and — oy, was I tired. Could I reach the promised land of Sunset Boulevard? I knew I would pay for this the next morning, but I didn’t care. I refused to look upward and focused on my feet so as not to notice how high I was climbing. I wondered how long I might lie on the street if keeled over before someone would find me.

I could be lying there, Yiddish music blasting from my unconscious ears, my headband covering my eyes, just another exercise victim who had crossed a threshold of pain.

This daydream diverted my attention long enough to get my second wind and I was off. Huffing and puffing nearing the top, almost there, thousands of years of Jewish determination pounding in my veins, two feet more, one, I was there. I stood on Sunset Boulevard and peered downward like Moses glimpsing the River Jordan.

The beat compelled me onward, so I walked along Sunset, so filled with accomplishment I thought I would burst.

I walked toward home until I found a downhill street on which to begin my descent. Whoa, this downhill was almost as hard. I fought to keep the rhythm, until I reached Santa Monica Boulevard. I trudged up the steps and tore my shoes off, the music still filling my ears, joyous, upbeat. I had done three miles and walked uphill. There was no talking to me now. I was filled with hope. Tomorrow I could do this again. I felt it; I knew it.

Wednesday, 8 a.m.

I opened my eyes, and flush with optimism I stepped out of bed. Oy, flush with pain.

But there was no stopping me. I was a Jew with her music and a worthy goal of fitting into the dress for her daughter’s wedding.

 

Senior Moments – And in This Corner, Stella Goren


Stella Goren is only about 4-foot-10, but she packs a strong punch.

It all started when she was turning 79, and her husband asked what she wanted for her birthday.

“I'd like to work out at a gym with a personal trainer,” Goren told him.

In spite of thinking she was meshugge and assuming this wouldn't last, her husband gave his wife of 45 years what she wanted.

“I was very happy,” Sam Goren recalled. “I didn't have to go out and buy her a present.”

It turned out to be the perfect gift. Goren has been working out at the In Training Fitness Center in Hollywood, and loving it, for the past five years.

“Most exercise classes for seniors have you sitting in a chair and you bend down, you lift your arms, you turn your head,” Goren said. “The teachers don't really push you and there's no weight training. This makes sense, because you can get injured if you aren't with a real trainer. But I wanted to build up my muscles and bones.”

Well, Goren wanted to be pushed — and she got it.

Her personal trainer is Stan Ward, a champion heavyweight boxer who was recently inducted into the California State Boxing Hall of Fame. It's obvious that he really likes and admires Stella Goren.

“When you see an 80-year-old lady come into the gym and she has an attitude of 'Yeah, I can do that,' and then she does it, that's impressive,” Ward said. “There are several people in the gym, much younger than she is who don't have half her gumption to do half of the things she does. In fact, when she was there six months, everyone was appalled at how well she was doing. 'She can't do that. How's she doing that?'”

Indeed, Ward was so impressed with Goren's stamina, attitude and coordination that he thought she could handle something more — something like boxing.

“When he asked if I wanted to try boxing, I said sure,” Goren recalled, “and it's been great. What I really like is that you can get out all of your aggressions.”

Goren did make one stipulation when she began her boxing training: “I can hit, but they can't hit me back. I'm not stupid — I don't want to get hurt. I do, however, get hit in the nose sometimes when I work out with the speed ball by myself.”

Goren's background might have suggested the possibility of beginning to box at 81 years old.

She grew up in New Haven, Conn., the middle child of three girls. But she had a special role in the family.

“I had a brother that died in the flu epidemic,” she said. “I became the boy of the family; I was my father's son. He taught me to do electrical and plumbing repairs, and I was driving his truck at 14.”

When the United States entered World War II, Goren joined the Marines. What she learned in that training, as well as her willingness to take on a challenge, apparently emerged when she came to the gym.

“She's definitely a Marine,” Ward said. “She's in it 100 percent. She refuses to quit; she doesn't give an inch. Once she sets her mind to something, she gets it done.”

The payoff for all of her hard work has been tremendous, Goren said.

“Everybody knows me at the gym,” she said. “I walk in, and I'm greeted — 'Hi love.' 'Hi champ.' I feel so loved and like a ganser macher — like a big shot.”

Goren's husband, Sam, who at 81 runs several miles a day, is very impressed with his wife's accomplishments.

“She's become younger, in her thinking and talking,” he said. “And she tries to keep me in line by telling me about all the adulation she gets from the young men at the gym.”

Before she started her physical training at 79, Goren already had a wonderful hobby. In fact, a visit to her home is like touring an art gallery. Every wall and every shelf is filled with fabulous paintings, sculptures and quilts that Goren has created.

“The day I turned 62,” she said, “I retired from my work as a secretary and started taking art classes at Westside JCC. Now I spend more time working out and boxing.”

Ward said Goren inspires him.

“Because of the vivaciousness she has and how she conducts herself, people don't look at her as if she is old,” he said. “If you go around like you're on your last leg, you will stimulate people's negative views of what old people will be like. She is the opposite. She dances and she has fun. She always comes into the gym with a smile; everyone loves her. She's a wonderful person.”

Goren said that working out has truly changed her.

“You can really see the difference from when I showed up the first time and how I am now,” she said. “I was very timid. I'm much more outgoing now, and that is a very new feeling for me. I actually feel confident for the first time in my life.”

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer and owner of Living Legacies Family Histories. She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net or

Health – Pursuing America’s No. 1 Killer


For more times than he can recall, Ken Bouchard has journeyed from Los Angeles to his hometown of Framingham, Mass. There, Bouchard willingly provides blood samples, dons heart monitors and details his eating habits.

While he could easily get a routine physical closer to home, this exam is anything but routine. Bouchard subjects himself to such poking and prodding to further the cause of scientific discovery. Like his 94-year-old mother, Bouchard is a participant in the Framingham Heart Study.

The landmark study, initiated in 1948, set out to observe a large population over time in order to uncover the causes of heart disease. While we take such knowledge for granted today, it was the Framingham Heart Study that helped reveal the role of blood pressure, cholesterol, diet, exercise and smoking in heart disease and stroke. It has generated 1,000 scientific papers and launched thousands of research projects around the globe.

Three years before the study began, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died from complications of untreated hypertension, and conventional wisdom held that high blood pressure was an unalterable result of aging.

Framingham proved otherwise. Dr. Daniel Levy, the study’s current director and a faculty member at the medical schools of Harvard and Boston universities, said that by showing most of the risk factors for heart disease can be controlled by lifestyle behaviors, Framingham demonstrated that “family history is no longer destiny.” Indeed, the data obtained by monitoring the health of more than 5,200 Framingham citizens essentially transformed the approach of medicine from treatment to prevention.

“The Framingham Heart Study introduced the concept of risk factors…. It changed the way we practice medicine,” said Levy, who with journalist Susan Brink chronicled the study’s genesis and its continuing challenges in “A Change of Heart: How the People of Framingham, Massachusetts, Helped Unravel the Mysteries of Cardiovascular Disease” (Knopf, 2005).

Levy noted that blood pressure and cholesterol levels have decreased dramatically in the last 30 years, down from an average of about 225 to about 205 today.

“From the 1960s to the present time, deaths from cardiovascular disease have declined by 60 to 70 percent,” he told The Journal.

Despite this progress, however, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States and claims some 950,000 lives every year. And while rates of many risk factors have declined, the incidence of obesity has dramatically increased, threatening to “reverse many of the major advances we’ve made in the past 30 years,” Levy said.

Further, Levy estimates that one-third of the approximately 65 million Americans who suffer from high blood pressure remain unaware of their condition.

The federal government’s guidelines for health screenings call for blood pressure testing at least every one to two years for adults older than 18. Cholesterol testing should begin at age 20. Adults who are at increased risk for coronary heart disease should also discuss aspirin therapy.

For healthy individuals with high cholesterol levels, and for those with established heart disease or diabetes, Levy strongly advocates cholesterol-lowering medications. These drugs, he said, have been found so safe and effective in high-risk populations that the benefits far outweigh any risks. Yet according to Levy, fewer than 25 percent of those who probably would benefit from cholesterol-lowering medications take them.

And regardless of blood pressure and cholesterol levels, a healthy lifestyle is always recommended. The American College of Cardiology advocates 30 minutes of exercise daily, as well as a diet low in fat and high in fiber, which includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. According to Levy, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels — whether through lifestyle, medication or a combination of both — provides beneficial results regardless of one’s age.

The Framingham Heart Study is now entering its sixth decade, and has enrolled more than 5,000 children and 3,500 grandchildren of the original study participants. This has provided researchers with an unprecedented treasure trove of information to plumb for genetic secrets: DNA samples paired with three generations of clinical and laboratory data. “In the next few years, there will be important results coming from our genetic studies,” Levy said. He hopes these findings will identify additional risk factors, some of which will be modifiable, as well as pinpoint disease-promoting genes. The study has also branched out to areas beyond the heart, such as arthritis, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Levy noted that many of science’s most important findings emerge gradually, rather than as dramatic, “front-page” discoveries.

“The principles of prevention and the lessons learned about treating modifiable risk factors have saved countless hundreds of thousands of lives,” he said.

One of those lives may be that of second-generation study participant Bouchard. His father died from a heart attack at the age of 38, five months before Bouchard’s birth. Bouchard, 58, works out daily and follows a low-fat diet.

When Bouchard treks to Framingham for whatever new test that may await him, his father is never far from his mind. And while Bouchard knows he can’t change the past, he’s confident that his efforts will save future lives.

Got Baby Weight? Try Pilates


 

Too many “When are you due?” comments that came weeks after I gave birth to my second child were all the motivation I needed to reclaim my body. I had gained 60 pounds with my first child, but I bounced back into shape with little effort. Now I was five years older, recovering from a difficult pregnancy and a cesarean delivery. I knew I was going to need determination, patience and willpower if I wanted to put on my favorite pair of jeans again.

My main goal in the first few months was to keep moving. At first I began brisk daily walks with my daughter, Stella, in her stroller. I walked up to 45 minutes at a time (if she would allow it), and fast enough to lose my breath. Then I began integrating exercises I could do while she was with me outdoors: modified push-ups (on my knees), dips (with my hands on a park bench), lunges (holding the stroller in front of me) and some standing stretches (sidebends and hamstring stretches). Doing all of this while caring for my newborn baby meant that on some days I had to be content with just 20 minutes of exercise. Having a good video at home to squeeze in a workout while the baby was napping was also key to my exercise program.

All of the exercise was great, but if I wanted to return to my former size I couldn’t continue to eat as if I was still pregnant. Focusing on a strict diet had never worked for me in the past, so I chose instead to watch what I ate and how much I needed to eat so that I wasn’t hungry. This meant cutting my portions down considerably and restricting dessert to something low-cal once a week. I also kept water bottles with me at all times to make sure I was drinking enough.

After I began to shed pounds, I knew I needed to tackle two other problems: my doughy stomach and my achy back. Who would have thought that caring for a 9-pound infant could wreak such havoc on the body?

This is where my Pilates background really helped. Since Pilates focuses so much on alignment while strengthening and stretching, it took care of both problems. It’s the muscles in our midsection that enable us to stand up tall and take the weight and strain off our backs. All Pilates exercises focus on these core muscles.

Although I’ve owned my Pilates studio for more than 10 years and have been training for over 20, I still had to begin slowly with the simplest of abdominal exercises. Just curling my head and shoulders off the ground was too much at first. Fundamental exercises like knee folds, where the head and shoulders stay down and the abdominals stabilize the lumbar spine, was a better way to start. I had to focus on scooping my abdominals to protect my back.

It was humbling to watch my body quiver as I performed these basic exercises. It’s tempting to just do crunches all day when your stomach is this out of shape. However, listen to your body. Overworking the abdominals at this stage can put you at risk for a hernia. Using Pilates equipment like the reformer, the trap table and even a basic workout ball made these movements a lot easier for me to perform properly. When I couldn’t make it into my studio, I would do matwork at home using a Thera-Band to add resistance.

Although 30 pounds fell off of me almost immediately, the last 15 were reluctant to budge. It was a bit discouraging when my body didn’t meet the deadline I had set for it. It took 14 weeks of hard work before I could perform a roll-up without assistance.

I practiced moderation with my eating over the holidays and resumed my regime with the beginning of the New Year. My workout schedule now consists of a Pilates session two to three times a week and a variety of aerobic exercises one to four times a week.

Stella is 4 months old, and intent on learning to roll over. Her mom is beginning to see those muscles again, but still struggling to lose her last 6 pounds. We are both determined and progressing nicely.

Maria Leone is the owner of Bodyline Fitness Studio in Beverly Hills. For more information, visit

WWI Huns Spark His Passion for Exercise


 

I learned about gymnastics from the German soldiers occupying Lithuania during World War I. I used to watch them swinging on the parallels and the rings. I would go home and try it myself. I took wood from one of our factories and made parallel bars in our backyard.

One day, when I was 10, my grandfather found me practicing on the parallels. He said, “What do you want to be, a ‘comediant?'”

They would call us “comediants,” because we would swing from bars and stand on our hands. The older generation didn’t approve. Jews weren’t used to physical education; they were used to studying.

I joined the Maccabi organization when I was 16. It was a sports club with a Zionist philosophy. The goal was to build a strong youth who would be able to fight for Eretz Yisrael.

In my town, Seraij, we had about 60 members: boys and girls from age 9 to their 20s. We rented a hall where we did gymnastics. We met every day, every evening.

We spoke Hebrew, and we took courses in Hebrew language. Lecturers came and spoke to us in Hebrew about the importance of sports and gymnastics. We had a slogan: Nefesh briah b’guf barih, a sound mind in a healthy body.

Every year, we had a festival. We would march through the streets with a band playing music. Some Maccabi members would ride horses. Then the townspeople would come to the big hall, and we would have an exhibition. We would do gymnastics and weightlifting and lecture on the importance of physical education.

Mostly, we competed against other Maccabi teams. But we also competed against other organizations and non-Jewish teams. We would perform for the townspeople, young and old, to raise money.

Sometimes, I would find a play in the library. If not, I would write a play myself. We would then perform a little drama and do exercises to music on stage. Afterward, everyone would dance until 4 o’clock in the morning.

I became the chairman of our Maccabi club soon after I joined…. I had done gymnastics at my high school, which was one of the first Hebrew-speaking schools. I also taught myself by reading literature in German, because there were no Hebrew books on physical education.

It was my job to go to towns and organize the youth into Maccabi clubs. I would explain to the people that physical education was important — just as important for the girls as for the boys.

The Maccabi Central Committee chose seven people to represent Lithuania in the Maccabiah games. I was the only one chosen to compete in the 100-meter dash. To prepare for the competition, I ran every day in an open field that the Maccabi had rented. I ran plenty, a few hours a day.

But I had to make a living, too. I would come home late from Maccabi meetings. In the morning, my grandfather would come looking for me, because customers would be lined up outside our flour mill, waiting for me to open the gates.

In 1932, I traveled with the Lithuanian team to Palestine. I took a train from Lithuania through Germany and France. Then, I sailed from Marseilles on a ship called the Patria. When we landed in Jaffa, Palestine, the harbor wasn’t deep enough for the ship. So everyone got onto small boats, which carried us to shore.

It was very exciting to step onto Palestine. The Maccabiah was the first Jewish event in Palestine for people from the Diaspora in 2000 years. There were tens of thousands of people there.

Some of the Jews who had known me in Lithuania and had moved to Palestine saw me marching in the opening ceremonies. They called my name and yelled, “You should come visit us!” The Americans and the Germans won all the awards. All I got was a certificate.

I spent about two weeks visiting relatives in Palestine after the games. One woman from our team decided to stay in Palestine, because she was a Zionist. I didn’t want to stay. I saw Arabs in Jerusalem riding horses and waving swords and yelling. And I had to go back to Lithuania to work.

When I came back, I lectured about the games. In 1935, I was invited to inspect Maccabi organizations all over Lithuania and to organize new groups in cities that didn’t have any Maccabi clubs. I did this until 1937, when I left for the United Sates.

The Maccabi made going-away parties for me, because I had organized new branches and invigorated others. I was celebrating, because I knew I would live.

My older brother, Meyer, who had been in the United States, came back to Lithuania to get me. We went to the American consul together to try to get a visa. I was sitting there while Meyer was speaking with the official behind a closed door. When Meyer opened the door and nodded his head yes, he got a visa for me, I said, “Ah, I’m alive.”

I left behind my mother; my brother, Aaron, and his wife and two sons; my sister, Paula, and her husband and two sons; my grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins — maybe 25 members of my family. I’m the only one left from the whole family.

In the United States, I didn’t play sports. It wasn’t so easy here. I had to work very hard. I worked at a meat factory until 10 p.m. every night. This was my exercise, my hard work.

The following story by Hillel Price, 99, was told to his granddaughter, Journal contributing writer Sarah Price Brown.

 

A Spiritual Path to Weight Loss


With rainbows of fabric swishing around her 5-foot-11 frame, rings on every finger and bracelets hugging the length of her wrists, Reb Mimi Feigelson cuts an impressive presence — an aura in no way diminished by the fact that she is 80 pounds lighter than she was two years ago.

As Americans debate low carb vs. low fat or South Beach vs. Weight Watchers, Feigelson has brought something else into the mix: God and community.

Using the same spark of wisdom and originality that has made her a beloved teacher among her students at the University of Judaism and in Jerusalem, Feigelson is trying to conquer her lifelong weight problem with her own spiritually based weight management system that swirls together personal teshuvah, repentance, and Divine balance in the world.

"People think about diet and weight loss and they think about deprivation and loss and guilt," said Feigelson, 41, a protégé of the late Chasdic and musical master Reb Shlomo Carlebach. "This is not at all about that. This process is totally life-affirming. It’s about embracing and celebrating life."

Uncomfortable with the idea of "losing" weight, because loss has a negative connotation, Feigelson decided instead to "give away" her extra weight — about 115 pounds when she started. Two years ago she e-mailed 60 close friends and family, and asked each one to take a number corresponding to a kilo (she’s Israeli and thinks in kilos–about 2.2 pounds). When she gets up to that kilo, she asks the designated person to send her positive thoughts once a day, and she keeps thoughts of that person with her. She uses words and ideas associated with the numbers to focus her prayers as she enlists God’s help as well. When she finishes a kilo, Feigelson asks the designated person to donate money to a hunger-relief organization in recognition of that kilo.

"I don’t feel like I’m dieting. I feel that I am part of a process of tikkun [repair] in the world. God has a vision of a just world, and I’m creating the opportunity for that justice to manifest itself," she said.

Feigelson keeps a linen-upholstered journal where she tracks not only how many kilos she has given away, but who she has enlisted for each kilo.

She took the first 13 kilos for herself, corresponding to God’s 13 attributes of mercy. Friends and family chose numbers significant to their relationship with her. Sometimes Feigelson pairs up people she thinks would go well together on a specific kilo, and she has friends whose sole responsibility are her "Jerusalem kilos," the weight she puts on when she goes back home (not the last two visits, she says proudly). The response, she said, has been overwhelming, with friends and family calling, e-mailing, sending cartoons or simply thinking about Feigelson when she hits their kilos.

After two years, her list has grown to 80 people — from West Bank settlers to leaders of the Conservative movement.

"The notion of asking my friends and family for help is kind of revolutionary," she said. "This has always been a very private problem. … I can bare my soul in public, I can share parts of the journey of my soul, but this is different. Because it is not only my soul, it is also my body."

The process became more doable when she took herself out of the center and zoomed out to a wider picture of the Divine balance of resources in the world.

"In the ultimate scheme of things I was eating more than my portion, and someone else in the world was not getting their portion, and this is a way to reverse that," she said. She has a vision — though no specific plans — to spread this approach, harnessing the thousands of pounds people lose every day to feed the world’s hungry.

Feigelson says that vision enables her to step back from the details of dieting and just do the work necessary to get to her end goal.

That has meant exercising regularly with a personal trainer. She is flexible about what she eats — she has gone from vegan to red meat-heavy Atkins and back again, doing whatever is necessary to get past plateaus.

"The eating is a vessel, it’s not the goal," she said. "It’s not about learning to eat a specific way, it is about learning to eat in way that sustains you so you can do God’s work in the world. That is an obligation and commitment that needs to be renewed every day."

While the soul is at the center of her work, Feigelson is not immune to the corporeal benefits. She feels better, not just ethically but physically. She relishes in moments when she doesn’t have to fear a café might have a narrow armchair, or when the tray table on El Al goes down all the way. On a recent flight she could barely heave a 40-kilo suitcase onto the scale, and then realized that was how much weight she’s given away.

Of course for a woman who has been large all her life, slimming down can be a scary change, especially when a personality is so linked to an appearance.

"The work I need to be doing in the world needed a big body, because if I was left to my own devices, I would walk into a room and sit in the corner and never say anything," she said, although it’s a claim those who know her might find hard to believe. "But that is not why God put me on this planet. So by virtue of the fact that I have a big frame, I have a big mouth," she said.

She has already begun to assimilate the idea of taking up less space in the world.

"Whatever I am afraid of in terms of change is already who I am. If it is meant to manifest itself it will, and then I will learn to live as that part of who I am," she said. "I am, God willing, going to be here for a long time and there is work God is expecting me to do in this world, and I need to be healthy enough to do it."

Working Out Solo Not Working Out


I’m an exercise addict who does it all — hiking, running, spinning, dancing, aerobics and Tae Bo. I run the Santa Monica stairs and jog the UCLA perimeter. I’m hooked on Pilates DVDs, "Buns of Steel" tapes and hit the gym three or four times a week. But this September I hit a wall. I no longer found my workouts challenging or effective. I wanted to do more than lose five pounds. I wanted to sculpt my abs, firm my figure and mold my Jew.Lo tush. So I settled down and started seeing a personal trainer.

I’d experimented with a few trainers in the past, but each was more underwhelming than the last. The sessions felt more like a Stepford tour of the gym than a custom-tailored workout.

Marcus was different.

"What are your fitness goals?" he asked.

"I want Jennifer Garner’s body. But I’ll settle for wearing a smaller pair of Seven jeans."

Marcus laughed and said, "This is going to be fun."

After reviewing my exercise history, Marcus explained that my current workouts were building muscle, not burning fat. If I continued these routines, I would always look toned, but never get thinner. To decrease my measurements, I needed to keep up my heart rate during resistance training, ditch the weight machines and use my own body as resistance. He created personalized interval workouts, alternating three-minute cardio bursts with 10-minute resistance sets. Cardio, legs, cardio, arms, cardio, stomach, cardio.

Marcus challenged and encouraged me. He was fun, supportive, and my bod looked rockin’. But after eight weeks of whipping me into shape, Marcus broke off our relationship.

"Carin, I’m sorry, I can’t see you anymore."

"What? Just like that, you’re leaving me? You’re leaving my abs?"

"Something personal came up."

"Something or someone? Is it another client?"

"No, it’s another woman — I’m going on ‘The Bachelorette.’"

In Los Angeles, men usually ditch a relationship for a hotter woman or 10 minutes of fame. Marcus was leaving me for both. He was leaving for two months and taking my goal of looking hot by the holidays with him.

I was crushed. I was dependent. I felt totally abandoned. Marcus made me sweat and burn and push myself beyond my own expectations. Even during my off-day workouts, I felt his presence over my shoulder. My "looking really sexy now" shoulder.

How could I workout without him? I got great results from our sessions together and didn’t believe I could sustain those results on my own. I’d get zaftig and soft and I’d never wear my skinny jeans again.

After my disaster with past trainers, a trade-in trainer was not an option. So I went cold turkey. I sweated it out solo without a patch or a 12-step aerobics class to help with the transition. At first, I suffered from trainer withdrawal; I felt less motivated and quit each set a repetition or two early. But slowly, I regained my discipline. I diligently followed the workouts Marcus choreographed for me. I recalled his tips and hints and tried to emulate our sessions.

My solo workouts were fairly effective, and I mostly maintained my slimmed down shape. But now I’m jonesing for the real thing. Marcus’ small adjustments to my form resulted in huge changes to my body. His specialized workouts addressed my specific needs and our scheduled appointments made me take responsibility for my habits.

So when Marcus returns from his reality show stint, I’ll work with him weekly until I meet my fitness goal. I know, I know trainers can be addictive and my weekly fix is a wallet drain, but this bachelorette is falling off the wagon. ‘Cause I never know when I’ll need to look svelte for a rose ceremony.

Doctor Helps Kids Deal With Diabetes


Ask just about any of Dr. Francine Kaufman’s pediatric patients about her and the superlatives will start to fly.

“Fran is one of the busiest people I know … yet she’s still able to find time for me and make me feel like the only child in the hospital,” said 15-year-old Katie Zucker.

Chris Paonessa, 14, calls Kaufman his “mentor and role model.”

“She’s not just my doctor, she’s my friend,” noted college student Lupe Pena, a patient of Kaufman’s for 15 years.

The compliments come despite the fact that Kaufman, a pediatric endocrinologist and the head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, is often the person who delivers the devastating news to children that they have diabetes. It is Kaufman who orchestrates their transition from having a carefree childhood to one dramatically altered by the constant need to monitor diet, measure blood sugar and administer insulin.

If there’s such thing as a typical doctor, Kaufman surely doesn’t fit the mold. First, as Zucker noted, “She’s the only doctor we know who comes to work in stilettos and a miniskirt.”

While doctors are cautioned not to get too involved with their patients, Kaufman has invited several of them to stay at her home for periods ranging from days to years. One became a member of the family, whom Kaufman refers to as her “near son.” Another currently lives with the Kaufmans during the week while attending college.

Kaufman’s quest to eradicate diabetes extends beyond her direct work with pediatric patients. Among other things, she is a professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, the president of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and lead researcher on two National Institutes of Health (NIH) diabetes studies. That’s in addition to being the wife of a Cedars-Sinai pediatrician and mother of two grown sons.

Kaufman was honored by the ADA as their 2003 Woman of Valor at a tribute dinner on Feb. 6. Along with physicians nationwide, she is alarmed at the increasing number of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which used to be known as adult-onset diabetes.

“Twenty-five percent of new onset diabetes in children is Type 2,” Kaufman noted.

This increase is tied to the rise in childhood obesity, now considered an epidemic, and Kaufman is concerned about the poor eating habits and lack of physical exercise among school-age children.

“We’re seeing too many kids who are gaining too much weight,” she said.

To address this problem, Kaufman chaired the Los Angeles County Task Force on Children and Youth Physical Fitness, which recommended policies to support physical activity and healthy eating among children. She was one of the driving forces behind the Los Angeles Unified School District’s policy to prohibit soft-drink sales at middle and high schools starting January of next year (they are already banned in elementary schools).

At Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, her team is involved in NIH multicenter studies to see how lifestyle modifications can impact children with Type 2 diabetes, and whether diabetes can be prevented in the relatives of those with the disease.

She has collaborated on diabetes initiatives with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson, who flew in from Washington, D.C., to present Kaufman’s Woman of Valor Award. Saluting her work nationally and in such locations as Israel, Ecuador and Mongolia, Thompson said Kaufman has “the courage and the drive to make a difference in the lives of millions, not just here but around the world.”

When Kaufman sees a need, she fills it. One of the biggest challenges for diabetics is keeping the level of their blood sugar stable, especially at night. Kaufman came up with the idea of using uncooked cornstarch to formulate a patented food bar that reduces the incidence of hypoglycemia by promoting gradual and consistent absorption of glucose. For some patients, it has eliminated the need to wake up during the night to snack or test their blood sugar.

To help children understand the nature of diabetes, Kaufman helped develop a CD-ROM game called Life Adventure Series. And when she noticed that patients were having difficulty calculating the dosage of insulin they needed, she designed a simple slide card that matches blood sugar numbers and corresponding insulin dosages.

With all her roles and accomplishments, Kaufman’s direct impact on her patients is perhaps the most dramatic.

As Paonessa, who has successfully completed a marathon said, “She made me believe that everything is possible, even with diabetes.”

The Life Adventure Series: Diabetes CD-ROM is available
free of charge to children with diabetes and their parents. For information,
visit www.starbright.org/projects/diabetes/order.html

Israeli Schools Prepare for War


My daughter’s friend, Hilla, said her 11th-grade social
relations class at Herzliya’s Yovel High School normally focused on familiar
adolescent topics: interpersonal problems, difficulties with exams, the dangers
of drinking and driving.

But this winter her class spent its time poring over a
hastily distributed text from the Ministry of Education, starkly titled “The
Threat.”

Almost a century after soldiers’ lungs were burned out by
mustard gas in World War I, Hilla and her classmates can tick off the characteristics
of nonconventional warfare: possibilities of advance preparation, widespread
damage to living organisms, long-term harm to the environment, severe
psychological ramifications.

As I drove the girls, I heard Hilla, 17, talking to my
daughter in the backseat.

“Today the soldiers came to our class and showed us how to
inject ourselves with atropine in case of a gas attack,” she said.

“How do you know when to do it?” my daughter asked.

“I guess when they tell you to on the radio,” Hilla said.

“You mean you have to give yourself an injection?” My
daughter is aghast.

“Well, I guess my mom or dad could give it to me and my
little brother,” Hilla answered. “And I told my mother to buy talc. That’s what
they said we should spread on our skin to soak up chemicals so they don’t get
absorbed.”

Later, Hilla’s mother and I exchange macabre jokes: “I have
some perfumed powder with a furry puff I once got as a gift. Do you think that
will be good enough to ward off poison chemicals?”

For Israeli students, chemical and biological weapons are
not theoretical subjects like trigonometry or physics: They know the horrors
spelled out in “The Threat” may spill over into their own lives. Instead of
buckling down for the second semester, Israeli schools must focus on a wild
card variable: what to do if war breaks out with Iraq and Israel becomes the
target of a nonconventional attack?

The situation in the school system mirrors that of Israeli
society at large: confusion, conflicting opinions and assessments alternating
between assurances and dire warnings.

Education Minister Limor Livnat has declared that the school
system is preparing for all eventualities, but she conceded that not all
schools have access to bomb shelters, and in case of war may close down or operate
on shifts as they did during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Zevulun Orlev, chair of the Knesset’s Education Committee,
put it more strongly: “There isn’t a single school that is ready [for an
attack],” he said, raising fears that shelters at some schools might become
“death traps.” 

School security is uncentralized, with each municipality or
school administration having responsibility. Acknowledging the gaps in
preparedness, the Ministry of Education plans to move studies into protected
locations, such as community centers, if necessary. Soldiers are visiting 3,000
schools nationwide this month to familiarize pupils with emergency
preparedness. Though the population at large has a collective memory of the
Gulf War, these children were either toddlers or not yet born in 1991. One of
their strongest anxieties is what will become of their pets. Why can’t dogs
wear gas masks, too, they want to know.

Every educational institution in Israel has received a
booklet published in November 2002 by the Ministry of Education. The booklet
outlines preparations for emergency situations, from forming teams for 10
classrooms to procedures for entering shelters. Emergency situations are listed
as war with one or all neighboring countries, missile attacks by Iraq, Iran or
Syria, short-range missile attacks, gunfire in or around school — and such
natural disasters like earthquake or fire.

In addition, schools have received CDs with recommended
activities in a state of emergency, either in school shelters during an attack
or in other places if schools have been closed. These include games and group
activities that can be performed in a shelter, and how students can discuss
current events to occupy their time. There is a separate section detailing
activities that will help youngsters express their feelings and apprehensions
in time of crisis, as well as a list of games and artwork for small groups.

The Education Ministry plans a conference for the country’s
psychological counseling staff on how to prepare students for global events.

Near Yovel, the Walworth Barbour American International School
is preparing in its own way. The 500 students at this K-12 private school
include children of diplomats and foreign businessmen living in Israel. About
10 percent of the students are Israeli. War preparedness is top priority at the
American School. Parents were invited to hear a briefing from the
superintendent on dismissal procedures, security updates and projections of how
studies might be conducted in case of war.

Most of the non-Israeli students may leave the country if
war breaks out, so the American School is emphasizing distance learning.
Through an electronic educational system called Blackboard, students can get
assignments, hand them in and get them back corrected, all via the Internet. To
familiarize themselves, students have been receiving routine assignments using
Blackboard. Younger students’ parents also are expected to learn the system.

The American School’s approach was born of experience: It
closed temporarily during the 1991 Gulf War, in response to the mass exodus of
its student body.

This time things will be different, the school’s
superintendent, Robert Sills, vowed. He is adamant that the school will stay
open to serve the significant number of students expected to weather the storm
in Israel.

The American School is equipped with bomb shelters for
students and staff, and loudspeakers periodically announce emergency drills.

“Do you feel nervous during the drills?” I asked my
daughter.

“No,” she answered, “they’re just boring.”

She and her friends have become as nonchalant about bomb
shelter practice as they were about fire drills in simpler days. In the nearby
public schools, though, her friends don’t have bomb drills.

“I’m not even sure where the shelters are,” Hilla said.
“Anyway, most people in my class say that if war comes they will go to
relatives in Jerusalem, or down to the Negev, or even to Europe.”

I recall that as a member of the parent’s association during
the Gulf War, I volunteered one morning to help tape up the windows of the
Herzliya public high school my older daughter was attending. The tape was
supposed to protect against gas leaking in. It was a ludicrous task: Most of
the windows didn’t close properly, and many lacked glass panes. Taping up the
gaping holes was an exercise in futility.

For students in Israel this winter, tentativeness is again
the name of the game. The school play? The hockey marathon? The French midterm?
Everybody plans for them as if nothing is out of the ordinary. But who knows
how the world will be when the sophomore dance rolls around?

For years after the Gulf War, families had rolls and rolls
of unused masking tape they had nervously purchased during the hostilities.
This time, in addition to tape, maybe they will have stocks of talc to help
absorb chemicals on the skin their teen-agers learned about in school.

Much as they joke about it, the students hope that the seals
on the talc containers stay intact.  

A Forkful of Trouble


Turkey, potatoes and gravy, candied yams — all the foods you love to pile on your plate come Thanksgiving. But you might want to check your blood sugar before you take another helping of mashed potatoes, because if you are one of the many American Jews at risk for diabetes, that extra forkful could spell a whole lot of trouble.

"I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, a meat-and-potatoes guy," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in January 2001. "All of these things are off my diet now. No potatoes, not even a french fry."

It is no small irony that November is home to both Thanksgiving, our nationally recognized day of gluttony and sloth, and National Diabetes Month. Diabetes, which affects 17 million Americans, is on the rise in the United States. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, the number of people with diabetes in the United States has risen by nearly 50 percent during the past decade.

The impact of diabetes in the Jewish community is significant. "The prevalence in the Jewish community is greater than in other Caucasian populations," said Dr. Riccardo Perfetti of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Dr. Francine Kaufman, head of endocrinology at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles and president of the American Diabetes Association, said that lack of exercise at Jewish day schools is compounding the problem.

Diabetes results when the pancreas cannot create enough insulin, which helps the body convert glucose (a sugar) into fuel. Any additional sugar in the bloodstream, from either sweets or complex carbohydrates (like potatoes or white rice) aggravates the condition and increases the risk of fainting or stroke.

Type I diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes, is rare and tends to be diagnosed at birth or in childhood. The more common Type II diabetes comprises 90 percent to 95 percent of all cases, and can go undiagnosed in many cases.

Although Yaroslavsky’s mother and "everyone on that side of the family" had had diabetes, he didn’t think it could happen to him. He dismissed the symptoms — extreme thirst, fatigue, frequent trips to the bathroom — as the combined result of stress from his busy schedule and age. Yaroslavksy might never have realized he had the disease if not for a bad cold, which led to a routine blood test.

The doctor told him that with diet and exercise he could manage the diabetes and live a normal life, but "if I didn’t, I could have any one of the following: amputation, kidney failure, heart failure, stroke or blindness," Yaroslavsky said.

So he changed his dietary and exercise habits, increasing his jogging routine, and is following a diet of whole-grain bread, chicken, fish, salads and some vegetables and fruits.

Yaroslavsky has no self-pity for the loss of his favorite foods. He calls it "a win-win situation."

"The diagnosis of diabetes will probably add 10 to 15 years to my life, because without it, I would have been eating the junk I ate before and not thinking about the consequences," he said.

Kaufman and Perfetti attribute the large increase in diabetes cases to a lack of physical activity — "God forbid we take the stairs," Kaufman said. She added that when it comes to exercise, schools are the worst culprits, including Jewish ones.

"In schools across the country, there are not enough physical activities to meet the needs of the students," Kaufman said. "Jewish day schools are the same or even worse, because they demand such a high level of academics. I would think that with the root of our religion being the reverence of life, we would stress taking care of our body as being just as important as academics."

Exercise can make a difference in the treatment of diabetes, Kaufman said, noting that one of her patients, Steve Eidelman, a Beverly Hills High School senior diagnosed with Type I diabetes, plays varsity tennis and even ran a marathon in Rome last summer.

In his spare time, Eidelman helps promote responsibility and activity among newly diagnosed youth. "If you are responsible," he said, "there is no reason you cannot control your diabetes.

A number of promising studies are underway to find a cure for both types of diabetes. Perfetti is working on one involving engineering a man-made gene to promote insulin production. He hopes to begin testing on human subjects some time in the next year.

Kaufman is chairing two multicenter clinical trials for the National Institutes of Health: one aimed at diabetes prevention, the other to determine the best treatment for the growing number of children with Type II diabetes.

Both physicians agree that the increase in the disease is a battle that can be won, if more people pay attention to their eating habits, and if they move away from their sedentary ways.

Mind, Body and Soul


What do women want? Happiness, family and to shed those last 10 pounds. Women can learn how to accomplish all this and more at an educational conference produced by women and designed to meet the needs and wants of women.

"Exercising Your Mind; Minding Your Body," the fourth annual Women’s Community Conference, offers Southern California women a unique learning experience. A joint effort of the Hadassah Southern California Northern Area and the University of Judaism (UJ) department of continuing education, the daylong event on Sunday, March 10, aims to expand women’s spiritual and physical knowledge. Speakers, ranging from UCLA professors and Los Angeles-area rabbis to pediatricians and clinical psychologists, will tackle topics such as "The Women’s Revolution in Judaism," "What Color Is Your Diet?" and "Families and Other Unusual Life Forms."

"We want to explore health and spiritual topics that are meaningful to today’s Southern California women," said Roz Kantor, Northern Area chairperson. The conference is for women of all ages, from all Jewish movements and also non-Jewish women.

The more than 5,000 Hadassah Southern California Northern Area group members range from newlyweds in their late 20s to grandmothers in their late 80s. To accommodate the interests of all the women, the conference will present insights into all stages of a woman’s life. A new mother may be interested in seminars like "Using the Jewish Tradition to Raise Caring Kids" and "The Challenge of Raising a Challenged Child," while a mother of grown children may be drawn to "Midlife Challenges Not Midlife Crises" and "This Can’t Possibly Be My Life."

The conference not only will explore the different stages of a woman’s life, but also the different elements. Seminars will cover a woman’s mind, body and soul.

"We have something for everyone. Talks on diet and nutrition, women of the Torah, Israeli politics, stem cell research and even herbal medicine," said Debbie Kessler, the Women’s Community Conference co-chair. "Since its inception four years ago, the conference has aimed to educate women on multiple aspects of their lives."

The international Hadassah organization, over 300,000 strong, started as a women’s study group in 1912 and contributes much of its funds to Jerusalem’s Hadassah College of Technology. And so, the leaders of the Northern Area Chapter, felt it only appropriate to create an event dedicated to self-education.

"Since education is a cornerstone of our organization, it seemed fitting to start an educational day — a day for women to come together and learn," Kantor said.

To further enhance the day’s educational component, Hadassah invited the UJ to co-sponsor the event. "UJ is a renown Jewish educational institution right here in our area, and it made sense to join forces with them," Kantor said.

The UJ also saw the cooperation as an easy match. "Our mission is to provide a multitude of opportunities that enrich the lives of various segments of the population. To work with a group such as Hadassah was not only a pleasure, but a true fulfillment of this mission," said Gady Levy, UJ continuing education dean.

Levy emphasized the university’s excitement over the joint venture. "The conference provides our community with such a meaningful day of education, and the caliber of this program is something we’re very proud of," Levy said.

The UJ not only lends the conference academic prowess, but physical facilities. In past years, the conference was limited to 175 attendees, but this year’s university campus venue enables the conference to increase to 300 participants. "The event just keeps getting better and bigger. We have so many women who return every year, and now we can accommodate both returning and first-time attendees," Kessler said.

The 300 women will begin their day with a kosher continental breakfast, attend one of four morning seminars, have a kosher box lunch and then choose one of four afternoon seminars. The conference also features three keynote speakers (at the start, middle and end of the day), as well as a book sale and signing.

"Hadassah is a dynamic, 90-year-young organization, and we welcome and encourage all women to come to the conference and be a part of us," Kantor said.

The conference will run from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel-Air, and is open to everyone.

Registration is $40. Same day walk-up attendees may attend on a space-available basis, and sign-language interpreters will be provided. For more information, contact Hadassah Southern California Northern Area at (818)783-3488.