If you’re are healthy and want to exercise regularly, go to any gym that suits you. But if you have had a heart problem or a bout with cancer or suffer from Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, polycystic ovary syndrome, respiratory disease, orthopedic problems or another chronic illness or are just plain overweight, run for your life to the new Heidi Rothberg Sports Medicine Center of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center in the Jerusalem Pais Arena building near Teddy Stadium.
The impressive new facility, directed by highly respected sports medicine specialist Prof. Naama Constantini, has all the skilled manpower and Italian sports equipment of the highest quality that can put you on the path for better health. It also examines, assesses, advises and offers systematic exercise to professional and amateur sportsmen from around the country. The center is Israel’s only sports medicine center under the aegis of a medical center that is in a separate location so that customer/patients don’t feel that they are ill.
Constantini, an expert swimmer who received certification as a sports medicine fellow in Canada at a time when the Israel Medical Association has not yet recognized sports medicine as an official specialty, spent years running a sports medicine center for the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO). Previously she worked at the Wingate Institute for Physical Education & Sport near Netanya. But nearly two years ago she decided to move to SZMC when HMO decided that the sports medicine center had to be a solely for-profit institution without any subsidies. Heidi Rothberg, who lives in Colorado, has been a devoted financial supporter of SZMC for years, including its pediatric dialysis unit and other facilities. She is the daughter of the late Sam Rothberg, a key architect of the American Jewish community’s relationship with Israel, a philanthropist and a business leader from Peoria, Illinois who was president of Israel Bonds and died in 2007 at the age of 97.
He encouraged US president Harry S Truman to recognize Israel immediately after its independence was declared in 1948. He later served as board chairman of the Hebrew University, which established the Rothberg International School for foreign students in his honor.
Heidi Rothberg, a prominent lay leader who lives at a ranch and rides horses in Colorado whose active commitment to philanthropy extends her parents’ legacy and currently serves as a governor of HU and a co-chairperson of the International Board of Overseers at the International School and even received a HU honorary doctorate a decade ago.
“I’m proud to be connected to Shaare Zedek for so many years. My dad used to say: ‘Don’t give to institutions; give to people. Thanks to the new center, people will learn to take care of themselves, so the center will save many lives,” she said.
Constantini noted that her late father, Hebrew University Prof. Zwi Werblowsky (a leading scholar of religion specializing in comparative religion and interfaith dialogue) and Sam Rothberg knew each other.
At a modest opening ceremony of the sports medicine center held at the arena recently, SZMC director- general Prof. Jonathan Halevy thanked Rothberg for her longstanding commitment to the hospital and the State of Israel.
“Your great help has enabled us to save lives. Your contribution to our brain center has saved the lives of more than 160 people with strokes and others have avoided severe disability. I have no doubt that the new sports medicine center will prevent sickness and contribute to the quality of life of many healthy people and recovering patients.”
This, he added, “is our first out-of-hospital project for preventive medicine – for primary prevention of healthy people, testing amateur and professional sportsmen, helping at-risk people and also secondary prevention for patients with a wide variety of conditions who need rehabilitation.”
Also present at the small ceremony were Prof. Michael Glikson, head of SZMC’s cardiac branch, and Prof. Amos Peyser, head of orthopedics – both of whom jumped onto machines and tried them out.
The center provides consulting services to Hapoel Jerusalem, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Ashdod, Hapoel Beersheba, the Basketball Association and the Swimming Association and its various teams.
“THERE ARE plenty of gyms in Jerusalem,” noted Constantini in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “We don’t compete with them. Our is a medical facility, with experts who understand medicine and bodily processes, analyze the muscular strength, aerobic capacity, body composition, flexibility and other aspects of the body and provide counseling. We have physicians, sport nutritionists, physiotherapists, physiologists and other experts.”
Obese patients who have undergone bariatric surgery (stomach shortening) have to learn to change their lifestyle and keep the weight off, and this can best be done at a sports medicine center such as that at the arena. Parkinson’s patients who benefit from regular exercise will probably be reluctant to go to an “ordinary” gym with healthy, active people. They need expertise that only a physiotherapist can give them, said Constantini.
She noted that people who have survived heart attacks are entitled, from the basket of health services, to get three to six months of cardiac rehabilitation. SZMC provides this free to its cardiac patients, as do other hospitals. But after that, most patients need more to avoid repeated heart attacks, strokes and other problems. In addition, respiratory rehabilitation is covered by the basket of health services only for patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (many due to smoking) and not other lung disorders. Exercise and counseling are held in small groups for an hour two times a week for a monthly charge of NIS 500 (for three months at a time), while those who want more than twice can come for another weekly individual session.
The spacious exercise gym is full of advanced equipment of all kinds made by the prestigious Technogym company in Italy.
“We tried each device before choosing equipment for the center. We went for the highest quality, not the least expensive,” said the director. There are state-of-the-art, “smart” elliptical machines, treadmills, cycle ergometers (legs and hands), rowing machines, weights, devices for functional training, many types that have not been seen before in the capital.
“The high-end equipment for aerobic strength and functional training is considered among the best in the world.” The devices come with small screens for Internet surfing, hearing music or lectures and watching TV or video and a personal program for following one’s exercise progress.
The Rothberg Center is currently negotiating with the public health funds about subsidizing through their supplementary health insurance plans the services it provides.
“Research in the US has found that for every dollar spent on physical activity by patients, six dollars are saved. It is very worthwhile for the insurers,” said Constantini. “The Kaiser Permanente HMO in California has opened a ‘Vital Sign’ analysis in which charges are set not only according to whether members smoke but also whether they exercise regularly. A growing number of hospitals realize that lifestyle changes are not a luxury but essential.”
THE HEALTH funds clearly see that the cardiac and COPD rehabilitation they are bound to provide saves them money that would otherwise be spent on hospitalization and drugs, said the fit Constantini. As for women with polycystic ovaries who find it difficult to get pregnant and who are at risk for type-2 diabetes, regular exercise can make a significant difference for the syndrome, which involves the woman’s production of morethan- normal male hormones. This causes them to skip menstrual periods and makes it harder to become mothers.
“Exercise under supervision is much cheaper than taking drugs to stimulate ovulation or treat diabetes,” she stressed.
Cancer patients, especially women with breast cancer, can enjoy improved well-being, stronger bones and increased survival rates if they exercise, Constantini continued, citing many medical studies that have proven this.
Depending on the program, customers receive a kit with elastic bands, rubber balls and weights that allow them to exercise at home when not at the center. In fact, Heidi Rothberg was presented at the ceremony with such a kit to exercise in her seat during her frequent flights to and from Israel.
“We don’t encourage people to buy expensive exercise equipment for use at home because in most cases, when the enthusiasm wears off, they usually become coat hangers,” said Constantini with a smile.
The center is also planning to organize meetings related to specific health problems. Constantini teaches the subject of physical activity and health once a week to firstyear students at the Hebrew University Medical Faculty.
“No other Israeli medical schools have made this a mandatory subject. We, working with the Joint Distribution Committee, have medical students who volunteer to visit elderly people in their homes and encourage them to exercise for better health.”
CONSTANTINI HAS been very busy in recent weeks preparing for the Giro d’Italia bicycle race – second only to the Tour de France, which will shift from Europe to Israel for three days and expose the country to some 850 million TV and Internet viewers around the world. More than a century old, the Giro – of professional male cyclists – has chosen Constantini to provide medical supervision for bikers during the day – May 4 – it will function in the capital. A total of 176 bikers on 22 teams will ride through the country. The Giro is the fourth largest sports event in the world after the Olympics, World Soccer Cup and the Tour de France, she said.
“Helicopters will fly overhead and record the bikers on their routes. The event will not only expose the world to the beautiful sites in Israel but also bring in NIS 60 million from tourism, according to the Ministry of Tourism. On the first day, in Jerusalem, the riders will bike against the clock. The Giro was brought to Israel thanks to contributions by Canadian-born philanthropist Sylvan Adams, a cycling fan who now lives in Israel and is the son of Canadian billionaire Marcel Adams. On a subsequent day, the bikers will cover as many as 230 kilometers down to Eilat. It will be broadcast in Italian, French and English. There will be teams even from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. All of the riders are all used to going over steep hills, so those of Jerusalem will not faze them at all,” she continued.
Constantini was invited to Italy to see how doctors are involved in treating participants while they are riding their bicycles.
“Doctors hang out of car windows while treating wounds, cuts or putting drops in the eyes of bikers while they continue riding; they don’t spend time getting off their bikes.”
The sports medicine specialist cites Hippocrates, saying that adopting a healthful diet is not enough to make you healthy if you don’t exercise.
“Some people claim that if you’re thin, you don’t have to exercise. But there are overweight people who are nevertheless healthy and thin ones who are not. You have to exercise on a regular basis. Exercise is not for losing weight. It is to enjoy a high quality of life and to function better. You have to get your heart pounding, your lungs working and your muscles moving if you want to have a long life.”
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