Anecdotes of sports medicine - Steven Blair

One of my objectives for the Limburg Congress for Sports Medicine was to invite illustriuous speakers.

American professor Steven N. Blair (1939-) belonged to the world's top in the field of movement sciences, epidemiology and biostatistics and I had the immense pleisure to welcome him three times. At that time he was still working in the famous Cooper clinic in Dallas, afterwards he moved to the Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina.

The three lectures he gave at the Limburg Congress for Sports Medicine were entitled:

  • Low levels of physical activity and physical fitness as risks for hypertension and all-cause mortality
  • Physiologic activity, hypertension and mortality
  • Physical Activity and Health: How Much and What What Benefit?

Steven Blair was also former president of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity and the National Academy of Kinesiology. He received awards from many professional associations, including a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health, the ACSM Honor Award, the Robert Levy Lecture Award and the Population Science Research Award from the American Heart Association. He is one of the few Americans to be awarded the Surgeon General’s Medallion. He received honorary doctoral degrees from American, English and Belgian universities.

His research focused on the associations between lifestyle and health, with specific emphasis on exercise, physical fitness, body composition and chronic diseases. He published over 700 articles and chapters in the scientific literature and he was the Senior Scientific Editor of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health.

Steven Blair believed that physical inactivity is a greater risk to public health, rather than obesity, and a danger to people's lives. One of his key words was:

"It does not matter how fat you are, but how fit you are."

With which he suggested that not all obese people are unhealthy and that obese people with a moderate amount of physical exercise can actually be healthier than people with a normal weight who are physically inactive. According to him, physical inactivity was the biggest public health problem of the 21st century. He was among the first to show that moderate increases in fitness, irrespective of a person's body weight, result in reduced mortality rates.

'I have published widely on the fitness-fatness controversy and what my research shows is that obese people who are moderately fit do not suffer from the health problems generally associated with obesity. 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week – for example three short ten minutes walks a day – will mean you stay moderately fit regardless of your body weight and this has enormous health benefits. It is physical inactivity, not obesity, which is leading to increased mortality rates."

Moreover, Blair spoke experimentally, he was 1m67 tall and weighed 93 kilos, which represents a body mass index of 34.1.

“I often tell people that I was short, fat and bald when I started running, but that after running nearly every day for more than 30 years and covering about 70,000 miles...I am still short, fat, and bald. But I suspect I’m in much better shape than I’d be if I didn’t run.”

Some of his books he published

  • Big Fat Lies: The Truth about Your Weight and Your Health
  • Active Living Every Day: 20 Weeks to Lifelong Vitality
  • Active Living Every Day With Online Resource-2nd Edition
  • Guidelines for Graded Exercise Testing and Prescription
  • Fitness After 50: Its Never Too Late to Start!
  • Living with Exercise

As an appreciation for his outstanding career as a clinical researcher in the areas of exercise, physical activity and cardiovascular health, the 'Steven N. Blair Award for Excellence in Physical Activity Research' was created.

Steven Blair was a wonderful man, always smiley, very helpful and extremely friendly. Despite the Limburg Congress for Sports Medicine coinciding every year with Thanksgiving Day -in the United States the family meeting par excellence- he never hesitated to fly over.