Decades of exercise research at HSPH

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In the 1960s, the late epidemiologist Ralph Paffenbarger, Jr. launched a study of men matriculating as undergraduates at Harvard University that would be among the first to link physical activity to a longer, healthier life. While teaching at Stanford in the 1980s, Paffenbarger’s enthusiasm for the work rubbed off on graduate student I-Min Lee, now professor in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH, and led to a decades-long collaboration between the two researchers that has resulted in numerous studies.

Lee took over the reins of Paffenbarger’s still-ongoing College Alumni Health Study in the 1990s. Since then, she has broadened the scope of the department’s work in physical activity research. While Paffenbarger’s pioneering study only looked at men performing vigorous exercise, Lee studies both genders and has worked to assess the benefits of more moderate physical activities such as walking. Now, her doctoral student Eric Shiroma is carrying on the legacy — with the help of a research award named after Paffenbarger.

The Paffenbarger-Blair Fund for Epidemiological Research on Physical Activity, offered by the American College of Sports Medicine, awards $10,000 annually to a promising young researcher. Paffenbarger himself provided the seed funding, donating money he received as co-recipient of the first International Olympic Committee prize for sport science.