This article was first published as “The Healthiness Of A Long-Distance Walker” in The Jewish Week.
Dr. Shaul Ladany is a fascinating person to speak to. That is, if he stops moving long enough to hold a conversation. A world record-holding long-distance race walker, who — at the age of 75 — still practices for several hours daily and competes in 35 events a year, Ladany was recently elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He is the first and only Israeli athlete to be given this honor.
For this highly accomplished professor of industrial engineering and management, race walking has been a way of life. It is what has kept him going in spite of hardships that would have sidelined most other people. Race walking has given Ladany a way of moving past personal experience of the horrors of the Holocaust and the terrorist attack on the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. It has also helped him clear hurdles like lymphoma and skin cancer. “I believe that if I didn’t continue to engage in physical activity as I am used to, I wouldn’t be able to move,” he told The Jewish Week in a phone interview.
While Ladany might be considered an extreme walker, it is well documented that those of us who walk less and more slowly than he can still benefit greatly from walking. In August 2009, Harvard Men’s Health Watch published a report on an analysis done by a team of scientists of 18 different highly regarded studies on walking and cardiovascular health. The researchers found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31 percent and lowered the risk of dying (during the study period) by 32 percent. The benefits were equal for both men and women, even those walking distances of just 5.5 miles per week at a casual pace about two miles per hour. Not surprisingly, the best cardiovascular health outcomes were for individuals who — like Ladany — walked longer distances, walked at a faster pace, or both.
Ladany chronicled much of his life story in his autobiography “King of the Road” (Gefen Publishing House, 2008). In a matter-of-fact style, he tells of his childhood in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and then his family’s flight to Hungary during WWII. Having lost extended family members to the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Ladany, his parents and his sisters ended up in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp for six months. They were “Kastner Jews,” part of a group of Hungarian Jews ransomed from the Nazis by journalist and lawyer Rudolf Kastner, and transferred to neutral Switzerland in late December 1944. (Kastner was assassinated in 1957 after being accused of treason by an Israel court).
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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.