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May 6: Aerobic Exercise on a Double-Decker Bus

May 6, 2013
J Morris Washington 1954.jpgJeremy Noah Morris, the doctor who showed that aerobic exercise helps the health of the heart, was born in Liverpool on this date in 1910. His parents were refugees from Russian pogroms. In 1949, Morris began to study the heart-attack rates of drivers and conductors on double-decker buses in London. The drivers sat for 90 percent of their shifts; the conductors climbed about 600 stairs per day. Dr. Morris’s epidemiological study was published four years later and indicated that the conductors had fewer than half the heart attacks of the drivers. In follow-up studies of both transportation and postal workers, Morris showed that the incidence of heart attacks was far more related to exercise than to body size or weight, and in an eight-year study of 18,000 civil service workers with sedentary jobs in the 1960s, he showed that regular aerobic exercise — fast walking, cycling, or sports activities — reduced their risk of heart attack by half. “His interest wasn't so much in talking to other epidemiologists as in understanding health problems and doing something about them," said Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health. "He was socially committed, a campaigner determined to make things better." Dr. Morris himself exercised for an hour a day well into his 90s, and lived to be 99 1/2. "He always insisted on adding the half," said his daughter. “I suppose you'd say I'm a radical, a ‘do-gooder’ to put it in pejorative terms."—Jeremy Morris