Don’t settle…. for short expectations.

    When I was a little girl, I used to worry about getting old, because I knew I would no longer be able to speak English. After all, everyone I knew over the age of fifty spoke broken English with a heavy Eastern European accent. In my four year old mind, it was a logical conclusion that this was a natural part of aging. I once asked my mother what I would do when I was a Baba and couldn’t speak English anymore. She laughed so hard she couldn’t speak. Uh-oh, perhaps it was already happening to her. Sad, because she still looked so young.

    It’s a funny story, but the point is that we sometimes get predetermined ideas about the aging process, and we think that we have to sit back and accept certain inevitable changes. Sometimes these expectations are silly, like I had when I was a child. But sometimes, these expectations may cause us to be resigned to certain changes, especially when they come from experts. 

    I recently read an article that proclaimed getting shorter was a natural part of the aging process. According to the article, this shrinking begins at age thirty, and we lose one half to three quarters of an inch each decade after that. Along with this disheartening news came the laundry list of projected health problems that we can look forward to related to our height loss and the aging process, including bone loss, osteoporosis, decreased balance and fractures. The list also included heart and digestive problems, related to the increased pressure put on internal organs as a result of the flexed posture that comes with aging. Yikes!

    But these dire predictions aren’t inevitable. You can prevent the loss of height by staying active and doing practices that help stretch your spine and improve your posture. Activities such as dance, yoga, tai chi and my personal favorites, Pilates and Feldenkrais, will help you stay strong and supple as you get older. As you add birthdays, you do not have to settle for subtracting inches, simply because the experts told you that’s what you can expect.

    I have always been a planner and a problem solver. Even as a very small child, I thought about taking English lessons as I got older so I would still be able to speak the language. I have also always been a talker, and the idea that people wouldn’t understand me was simply intolerable. Here I am, well into middle age, and I still have a fairly good command of the English language. I’m also the same height that I was in college. But according to the article I should  be an inch and a half to two inches shorter by now.

    So, instead of settling for what the experts tell us is sure to happen, I have another idea. Let’s prove the experts wrong, and show them what graceful aging looks like. Let’s do what we can to keep our spines (and ourselves) long, strong, fit and flexible. After all, why in the world would we settle for less, when we simply don’t have to?

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Colorado….still God’s country.

    Three days ago I woke up to find that one of my dogs had been sick during the night. Gee, what a way to start my day. Then I turned on the TV and half listened to the news as I began to clean up after my little dog. Here we go again….another shooting. I wondered where this one happened. My head snapped up and my heart sank when I heard the name “Aurora”. I held my breath. After all, there were a lot of towns named Aurora across the country. And then I realized that once again, a horrible mass shooting took place in my own back yard. How could this even be possible?

    My home state is famous for it’s beautiful mountains, big snowfalls and endless sunshine. Colorado is also known for it’s fabulous skiing, hiking and biking, as well as other multiple outdoor activities. We Coloradans have a reputation for our healthy lifestyle and our rabid passion for our football team. Unfortunately, we are also known for one of the worst school shootings in history. And now for the nightmare in the movie theater.

    The magnitude of what happened in Aurora is too devastating to even discuss or consider at this time. Yesterday I saw a headline that proclaimed “Aurora residents are still reeling.” Well, duh. Forgive me for my sarcasm, but they will be reeling for a long time. We all will. Long after the media is gone and the victims are laid to rest, the survivors, families and friends will struggle through indescribable pain as they somehow try to put their lives back together.

    We will hear a lot about the details of the shooting in Aurora over the next several weeks, months and years. There will be a lot of analysis, speculation, accusations, posturing and politicising etc. But now is not the time or the place for such discussion.

    Colorado is a beautiful place; it has heart and spirit like no place else I have ever seen. I am proud to call it home, and proud to be a part of it’s history and community. The people who live here are strong beyond belief. We will find a way to stay strong and support the survivors as best we can. I humbly ask that you keep a little bit of Colorado in your heart over the next few months, to help us find our way as we cope with another painful tragedy. Because in spite of the hell that was unleashed on us this weekend, Colorado is still God’s country,  and it is still Heaven on Earth. See for yourself.

Cheryl Ilov, PT GCFP

Teach your children well

It’s so important to teach your children well so you can prepare them for the great big world out there. However, out of all the things you teach your children, the one subject that often gets overlooked is how to defend and protect themselves when you aren’t around to do it for them. I still get the shivers when I think of the following story.

Last night I watched the news with a combination of horror, admiration and even pride when I saw the disturbing video of an attempted abduction. The would be kidnapper got a huge surprise when his ten year old victim fought back, kicked and bit him while her two year old brother screamed like a banshee. My emotions ran high and I was moved to tears as I watched the video.

I was furious that she was attacked in broad daylight while she was walking down the sidewalk with her baby brother. I was relieved that she was able to protect herself. I admired her tenacity. Most of all, I was proud of her that she knew exactly what to do under such terrible circumstances. And I was proud of her little brother for screaming his head off.

How did this girl know what to do? Her father taught her. Good for him. Apparently, the girl’s father had repeatedly instructed her how to react under such circumstances, just in case. They had even role played such a terrifying scene, in the remote chance that she ever was attacked. As a result, she responded immediately and correctly. She fought like a tigress. She got away and he got arrested.

I like the ending to what could have been a tragic story and another statistic. I don’t know about you, but I would rather see more stories like this than one where another innocent life is lost. Remember, perpetrators are looking for an  easy target. If you can’t teach your children how to protect themselves, or feel ill equipped to do so, you have options. Look into a self defense program for kids, or consider enrolling them into a martial arts school to receive proper training. The point is not to scare them, but to “aware” them. Awareness is the greatest defense a child can have. 

So please, teach your children well. The life they save may be their own.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Move it or lose it….

    We have always known that a sedentary lifestyle has a negative impact on our health. But I recently read an article in the WSJ which described how sitting for more than three hours a day can decrease a person’s life expectancy by two years. The article went on to describe that this decrease in life expectancy also applies to people who are physically active and follow a healthy lifestyle.

    What do you do if you have a sedentary job where you are required to sit at a desk all day long?  In the article, the author stated that when we are sitting, our leg muscles are completely inactive. That wasn’t a big surprise; to me it seemed like an obvious statement. He recommended that people stand as often as possible during the day. However, I have a few additional ideas to activate those muscles and keep you healthy.

    1). Fidget. You know, that thing that we all used to do when we were kids until the adults told us to sit still. Don’t sit still. Instead, move around in your seat, change positions, tap your feet, and swing your legs. While you are sitting, you can exercise your legs by doing ankle pumps, leg extensions, leg lifts and isometric exercises. Believe it or not, fidgeting also boosts your metabolism and helps burn calories.

    2). Pace. Pacing is a close relative of fidgeting, kind of like a mature older cousin. Pacing is a great way to work your leg muscles, get your circulation going, keep your ankles and feet flexible, relieve stress and burn a few more calories. Just in case you’re still not convinced, many of my clients have reported that pacing helps them think better. So, if you are saddled with a problem and can’t find a solution, try pacing.

    3). Don’t just stand there, do something. When you are standing, shift your weight side to side. Add toe raises, mini squats, and small lunges to your routine. Try standing on one leg to improve your standing balance. The movements don’t have to be big; small gentle movements done slowly and correctly has a huge positive impact.
    Just a few minutes of exercise during your work day can improve your health, level of fitness, increase your energy, and improve your concentration. The key to getting the maximum benefit from your exercise is not how many repetitions you do, but how you do them. The focus should be on the quality of your movement, not the quantity. You will also enjoy the additional benefits of strengthening your back and postural muscles, as well as a decrease in back pain and neck pain.

    Most of all, remember that if you don’t move it, you will lose it. And wouldn’t it be a shame to lose all that leg power? So, move it or lose it. Your legs will thank you!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Photographs and memories…..

   Last summer I had several photo albums converted to a DVD. It was quite a chore going through the albums from 1978 to 1986, but Wolf Camera was having an unbelievable sale, and I was on a mission to meet the deadline. I went through as many albums as I could, without taking too much extra time to look at the pictures as I organized them. I never even looked at the DVD until last week. Once I started looking, I just couldn’t stop.

    I smiled, I laughed, and I cried as I took a stroll down memory lane. The overwhelming theme over those eight years was love, laughter and parties. And no, not necessarily in that order. To those of you who are no longer with us, thank you for the memories, and for the stories that we still tell and that will live in our hearts forever; we love you and we miss you.

    There are 789 pictures on that DVD. I simply can’t torment you with all 789, and I couldn’t select just a few. However, here is the one picture out of all of them that pretty much sums it up. It is a gentle reminder that each moment in time is a snapshot, and a memory in the making for years to come. Also, every picture tells a story. Here is my story; without this picture I would have no story, nor would my sisters.

    Keep taking your pictures, making your memories, and sharing your stories.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Brain power, nature’s miracle, and neuroplasticity.

There was a fascinating article recently in the WSJ regarding neural implants, a new technology that could help people with a wide variety of neurological problems including seizures, paralysis, strokes, hearing and vision loss. Neural implants can also help relieve chronic pain as well as phantom pain that many amputees experience. These implants can also help amputees learn how to “feel” their prosthetic limbs and move them more efficiently.

This is fantastic news and a huge advancement in the field of neuroscience. The article explains the implants are “attuned to the activity between neurons” and can “listen to your brain activity and then talk directly to your brain”. Again, this is great news, especially for those individuals who are afflicted with conditions that leave them with serious impairments. It’s a miracle.

However, this technology is patterned after another miracle; the physiological miracle of neuroplasticity. Our own nervous system already has the capability to increase neural activity and strengthen neural pathways to improve our level of function on a physical, emotional, cognitive and sensory level.  Neuroplasticity was once believed to be available only in the very young, and lost to us after about the age of fourteen. But more recently, neuroscientists have discovered that neuroplasticity, or the inherent malleability of our nervous system (and our brain power) is present during the entire course of our lifetime.

What is the practical application, and what does this mean to you?  By making very small and simple changes, we excite different neurons, increase neural activity, and activate new neural pathways. Simply by changing your route to work, shopping at a different grocery store, or using your non-dominant hand to comb your hair will increase your brain power. Notice how a change in routine captures your attention and has a rejuvenating quality to your energy and your interest in your surroundings. To further increase your brain power, learn a new skill, study a foreign language, take a dance class or join a book club.

I believe that the most destructive thing we can do for the health of our brain is to become complacent. The most beneficial thing we can do is exercise our brain, keep it active and keep learning new things. Our brain, just like our body, craves to be challenged. If we don’t use it, we lose it. And wouldn’t it be a tragic shame to let all that power go to waste?

Bell bottom blues, and learning new skills.

    When we were teenagers, my sister and I used to sew our own clothes. Actually, we made clothes for the entire family. My sister and I were the seamstresses; our mother did the handwork and the finishing. We were quite a team.

    Of course, we each had our strengths, and our specific skills. I was a pretty good little seamstress and fairly accomplished at the Singer. But, for some reason, I was never permitted to sew the zippers into the garments that I was making. Instead, my mother would instruct me to ask my older sister to put the zipper in for me.

    It became a tedious ritual. I would reluctantly hand over the garment to my sister and begrudgingly ask her to sew the zipper in place for me. She in turn would sigh, give a long suffering look, and patiently explain to my mother that I would eventually have to learn to do it myself. Our little ritual was reinforced every time we repeated it.

    One day, I had enough. After all, the zippers came with a complete set of instructions. Surely if I could read and follow pattern instructions, certainly I could put in my own zippers. It was time for me to throw caution to the wind, take the plunge and sew my own zipper in the bell bottoms I was making for myself. You know, the low riding hip hugger type that was so stylish when I was a teenager.

    I announced my intentions to the team. My sister looked grateful. My mother looked skeptical. I looked determined. I stepped up to the Singer, got to work, and meticulously followed the directions. Honestly, it really wasn’t that difficult. And I did a great job, if I do say so myself. I proudly showed the finished project to my sister. She looked at it carefully, and complimented me on a job well done. Then she asked why I put it in the pant leg instead of the waistband where it belonged. Sheesh!

    It was one of those funny and silly things that we laughed about for years, and a story that got a lot of mileage. But the life’s lesson in this silly story is that it’s okay to make mistakes when you are learning new skills. It’s important to try new things, and you can’t let the fear of failure get in the way. After all, if you are trying, you are learning. If you are learning, you are succeeding. Most of all, don’t be afraid to interrupt old habits and patterns to allow for new ones to emerge. That’s when the real learning begins.

Be healthy, and keep learning!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

From techno-phobe to computer nerd.

    For someone who had a serious phobia with technology, I’ll admit I’ve come a long way. Two years ago I used to check my email once or twice a week. I didn’t know how to surf the net. I didn’t know what Google was, and was too embarrassed to ask people what they meant when they said, “I Googled it”. I didn’t know what a blog was, or why someone would want one. I learned about Facebook when Betty White hosted SNL. She revealed that she finally learned what Facebook was, and concluded it was a “huge waste of time”. She delivered that little pearl of wisdom while she worked her dimples for the camera. That was good enough for me.

    Then slowly, things began to change. Against my better judgement I got a web site. I started checking my email every other day. Then every day. Eventually several times a day. I got a new computer, even though I was sure I didn’t need one. I got a blog, even though I was sure I didn’t want one. I got on Facebook, even though I was sure I didn’t know how to use it. My new computer was tucked away downstairs at a small work station I had set up for myself. Suddenly I noticed I was running downstairs several times a day. Sheesh. When did that happen?
    Somehow my computer made it’s way upstairs to my dining room table. It made good sense to put it there because my husband was out of town and the dogs didn’t like it when I would disappear downstairs. Funny, my computer stayed in the dining room even after my husband came home. After all, he’d be leaving town again soon, and it was easier to leave my computer there instead of transporting it up and down the spiral staircase. Apparently I was getting over my techno-phobia, because several times a day I would make notes on my blog, check my stats, check my email, and see what my Facebook friends were up to. I even got on to LinkedIn and Google Plus.

    But, it wasn’t as though I was developing a dependency on my computer. I was simply getting used to using it and marvelling at it’s modern day miracles. I was on a roll. And then the unthinkable happened. I had a problem with my computer. After many frustrating attempts to correct the problem, I finally had to admit that I needed professional help. I had to surrender my computer to a perfect stranger who would be peering into the deep secrets of it’s neural network. With growing apprehension and mounting anxiety, I left my computer at the shop, and was reassured I would have it that same day, or the next morning at the latest.

    Well, the problem was more complicated than initially thought. I was without my computer for two days. I tried to stay calm and be cavalier about being disconnected, but every time I walked through my dining room, the empty spot on my dining room table seemed to mock me. I started to experience off-line anxiety. What if a client was trying to email me? What if I needed to update my blog? Or change my settings? I missed Facebook; what were my friends up to? Somehow I had made the transition from techno-anxiety to no-tech anxiety. The change was slow and insidious, but finally I had entered the twenty first century. Oh, I entered it screaming, kicking and fighting the entire time, but enter it I did.

    Since I have finally developed some level of skill with a computer, I guess it’s time for me to upgrade my cell phone. I’m just not sure I can make that leap to a higher level of technology just yet. I mean, a phone that takes pictures? And videos? A phone that I can use to access my email and my Facebook account? Hmmm, maybe I am ready for a new phone. I guess you never know what you can learn until you try. And that’s the story about how a techno-phobe turned into a computer nerd. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP