2011 Winner

McGill Announces 2011 Winner of Bloomberg Manulife Prize

Professor Steven Blair, University of South Carolina

Dr. Blair, a pioneering exercise researcher, was awarded $50,000 for his work linking moderate physical activity to reduced mortality rates.

His message?

“30 minutes a day could save your life.”

Dr. Blair has spent most of his career exploring the role that even moderate levels of physical fitness can play in helping people live longer. His research has shown that as little as 30 minutes of physical activity a day is enough to drive down mortality rates by 50%, and he contends that it is the lack of physical activity – and not obesity – that is the single biggest health issue we are facing today.

The work that won him the inaugural Bloomberg Manulife Prize is based partly on a 40-year study involving more than 80,000 individuals. His research has some fascinating conclusions, most notably, that overweight individuals who are nevertheless fit have a much lower mortality rate than slimmer individuals who are inactive.

Widely regarded as the lead contributor to a new area of epidemiological research linking physical fitness with decreased mortality and numerous health benefits, Dr. Blair is a professor of exercise science at the Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina. Seen as an academic leader in his field, he has advised governments and health organizations, has published over 500 scientific papers and book chapters, and is one of a handful of people outside the U.S. Public Health Service to be awarded the Surgeon General’s Medallion.

Dr. Blair accepted the prize at a special ceremony in Toronto on  January 11, where he also took part in a conversation about his research. This event was followed by a roundtable discussion on January 12, at McGill University in Montreal, where our prizewinner explored the topic of active health.

Learn about the prize-giving events in Toronto and Montreal


Dr. Steven Blair began his lifelong commitment to health and fitness with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education (minor in biology) from the Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kansas. From there, he continued to Indiana University to complete a M.S. and P.E.D. in Physical Education, and finally, a post-doctoral degree in preventive cardiology from Stanford University School of Medicine.

He has been awarded honorary degrees from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, the University of Bristol, England, and Lander University in the United States.

Professional Experience

Dr. Blair is currently a professor in the departments of Exercise Science and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina. He has previously held the position of Executive Lecturer, Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion, and Recreation, University of North Texas; President and CEO of The Cooper Institute; Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol, UK; and Adjunct Professor of the College of Education, University of Houston.

He has also served as President of the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education, and the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity.


Garnering more than $25 million of research funding over the past 25 years from the National Institutes of Health, Department of the Defense, foundations, and other organizations, Dr. Blair has emerged as one of the leading experts of physical fitness and exercise.

His research focuses on physical activity, body composition and health. 

One of his most important research activities has been a prospective epidemiological investigation that follows more than 80,000 adults who received extensive preventive medical examinations. The Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study (ACLS) was supported for many years by NIH and has resulted in over 200 publications. This study is one of the largest extant projects in which participants had an extensive clinical examination, including a maximal treadmill exercise test. This has allowed Dr. Blair and his colleagues to investigate the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness as a determinant of morbidity and mortality, and these results have been key to the development of public health recommendations for physical activity. 

Dr. Blair has also conducted five randomized trials of physical activity, which included more than 1,500 adults.

These studies investigated how to use behavioural science theories, models and methods to help sedentary individuals to become more physically active. Dr. Blair's team conducted the first randomized trials of physical activity that lasted 24 months. 

He has published over 540 articles of scientific literature, and remains one of the most highly cited exercise scientists in the world, with citations to his work appearing in over 30,000 reports in the scientific literature. He has written more than 200 papers on physical activity, fitness and health outcomes such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and all-cause mortality and is a leading contributor to the scientific literature on cardiorespiratory fitness and health, and has shown that inactivity is as hazardous as hypertension, high cholesterol and smoking.

Dr. Blair was the originator of the "fitness vs. fatness" hypothesis, which indicates that obese individuals who are at least moderately fit are half as likely to die in the next decade as normal weight individual who are unfit. In other words, low fitness level is far more significant that excess weight as a cause of poor health. He also performed the first 24-month, large-scale lifestyle interventions to promote regular physical activity in sedentary adults. These lifestyle interventions produce comparable results to structured exercise interventions in fitness centres with personal trainers, but cost far less to implement. 


Dr. Steven Blair is widely sought as a speaker for scientific, medical, public health, and lay groups. He has given hundreds of lectures in more than 40 countries around the world, and is frequently quoted in leading magazines and newspapers as well as appearances on radio and TV, including national programs in the U.S. and other countries.
Major awards include:

  • U.S. Surgeon General’s Medallion
  • American College of Sports Medicine Honor Award
  • American Heart Association Population Research Prize
  • National Institutes of Health MERIT Award
  • National Institutes of Health Robert S. Gordon, Jr. Lectureship Award
  • Folksam Prize from the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm
  • International Council on Sports Science and Physical Education Gold Medal
  • Honorary Member of the Order of Horse Collar Knights, Kuopio University, Finland
  • National Fitness Hall of Fame
  • Twenty-eight named lectureships in the U.S., Canada, Finland and Germany



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