Monday, March 7, 2011

Ernst van Aaken on Health and Disease

Dr.Ernst van Aaken was a physician from West Germany who was often referred to as the "Running Doctor." He is remembered for his advocating long slow distance(LSD) and being an adviser to Harold Norpoth who won a silver medal in the 5,000 meters at the 1964 Olympics. Van Aaken was also a zealous runner who influenced and encouraged countless others to recognize the health benefits of running.His book,Van Aaken Method, is a classic and whether you agree with everything he says about training,it contains alot of good and useable information,especially as it pertains to food,lasting health and disease.The following quote should be of interest to runners.It's been my experience that too many athletes think that because they run it will negate a multitude of dietary "sins." This of course is foolishness with a little denial thrown.Van Aaken correctly taught that attaining and maintaining health involves so much more than just exercising.
He probably wrote the following sometime in the '60's: "Nowadays,we talk about "diseases of civilization" as something obvious and acceptable,and it's hard not to notice the undertone of rationalization for our own sins against healthy living.We've discovered a whipping boy to take the blame for damage caused by filthy air,water pollution,lack of sunlight,noise damage,the flood of sense stimulation,speed craze in traffic and in occupational life, movement laziness,cigarette addiction,dietary damage and greed,chronic over-fatigue,nervousness,alcoholism,dope addiction and today's most visible catastrophe,coronary problems and cancer."
He went on to write: "All the above-named damages can be boiled down to three basic causes:
1. Oxygen deficiency(from lack of exercise)
2. Overeating
3.Weakness of will"
For Van Aaken, it was all about personal accountability as it pertained to ones' health.There is no question as to the importance of us doing likewise.


  1. The runner behind a very young Steve Prefontaine is Harold Norpoth,Van Aaken's protege.
    There's a funny story about Pre and Norpoth and it probably pertains to the race pictured in this post.After being beaten by Norpoth over the last quarter mile of a 5,000 mtr. race,Prefontaine complained that the "old" man just waited behind him during the race and let "me"(Pre) do all the work only to put on a finishing kick and win.The reality is that the "old man" Norpoth was only 6 or 7 years older than Pre.The contrasts in training styles of these two runners is remarkable--Prefontaine with an intense training regimen and Norpoth with a heavy on aerobic--light on intensity one--interestingly-- it was Norpoth who won with a strong finishing kick.

  2. "Run slowly, run daily, drink moderately, and don't eat like a pig."
    -Ernst van Aaken

  3. I love that quote--you can tell by looking at Norpoth that he followed that advice.