ART LEON, M.D.

1931 – 2022

National Academy of Kinesiology – Fellow #350

 

Dr. Arthur Sol "Art" Leon (NAK Fellow #350, inducted in 1993), age 90, of Minnetonka, Minnesota, died at home on February 6th. He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1931, and grew up in Miami where the family moved when he was 6 years old. Art received a B.S. degree at the University of Florida, and M.S. and M.D. degrees from the University of Wisconsin. His specialty training was in biochemistry, internal medicine and cardiology. After his medical residency, he served on active duty with the U. S. Army Medical Corps. He was stationed in France for three years during the period of the Berlin Wall, followed by an assignment to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington D.C. At Walter Reed, he carried out research on the effects of exercise on the cardiovascular system, using rodent animal models. Art retired as a colonel in the Army Reserve in 1998 after 38 years of service. Following active duty in the army, he was director of the Clinical Research Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey and led the first clinical trials on L-dopa, a drug for Parkinson's disease. In 1973, he was recruited to the University of Minnesota to work on the MRFIT study, an NIH-funded study involving men at high risk of heart attack due to smoking, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Art continued research and teaching at the University of Minnesota for 45 years, first in the School of Public Health, then as an endowed professor in the School of Kinesiology in the College of Education and Human Development, where he served for 20 years as Director, Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene and Exercise Science. Art held the endowed position of Henry L. Taylor Professor of Kinesiology from 1992 until his retirement in 2018. Art is internationally recognized for his exercise physiology research. 

The scope of his research covered animal, epidemiological and exercise training studies, including the role of physical activity in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. He was lead author on a landmark paper instrumental in the development of national physical activity guidelines for Americans, the U.S. 1996 Surgeon General's report. 

Art and his colleagues were invited to meet with President Gerald Ford at the White House to present their recommendations. He also was a key member of an international group conducting research on the effects of genetics on the body's response to exercise and aerobic capacity, the HERITAGE Family Study. These and other scientific efforts were highlighted in over 350 peer-reviewed publications. Art received numerous awards for his scientific research. He was a founding member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the recipient of several awards from that organization, including the 2016 Honor award. 

He received the "Order of the Honorary Horse Collar Knights'' from the University of South Finland in Kuppio, where he traveled 12 times as an invited speaker at the International Puijo Symposium in Kuppio. He impacted many students and faculty members during his career at the University of Minnesota, including serving as advisor to 26 doctoral students and 32 masters students, along with informally advising many other students who came to his office for advice. 

He is survived by his wife, Gloria Leon (Rakita); son, Harmon Leon; daughters, Michelle Leon (Steven Neuharth) and Denise Venables (Charles); grandchildren, River Neuharth and Jae Neuharth, Courtney Klein (Daniel), Cole Venables and Noah Venables (Kristin); great-grandchildren, Abby and Vivienne Venables; brother, Harry and sister, Anita Leon. 

Dr. Leon is fondly remembered and has left a lasting legacy to the field of Exercise Physiology.