Obituary: John O. Holloszy, former director of applied physiology, 85

John O. Holloszy, MD, whose research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis led to advances in the understanding of the body’s response to exercise, died July 18, 2018, at a nursing home in Town and Country, Mo., following a long battle with kidney disease. He was 85.

A 1957 alumnus of the School of Medicine, Holloszy went on to train as a postdoc at the school under Nobel laureate Carl Cori, PhD. In 1973, Holloszy became the director of the school’s Division of Applied Physiology in the Department of Preventive Medicine, and later served as director of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology in the Department of Medicine. He retired from the university in 2017.

Holloszy’s studies of aerobic exercise, nutrition and muscle development changed the way elite athletes train and helped others better cope with heart disease, diabetes, obesity and aging.

“Dr. Holloszy made tremendous contributions in the area of exercise physiology,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Department of Medicine. “He provided a better understanding of how muscle adapts to endurance exercise and the cellular mechanisms by which those adaptations increase athletes’ abilities to perform prolonged exercise.”

Holloszy also found that exercise improved insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes, and discovered that exercise training could reverse some of the damage in patients with coronary heart disease. In key animal studies, Holloszy found that calorie restriction lengthened the animals’ lives even more than exercise.

“John Holloszy is considered the father of modern exercise biochemistry,” said Samuel Klein, MD, the William H. Danforth Professor of Medicine and Nutritional Science and director of the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science. “His pioneering work elucidated the cellular mechanisms responsible for exercise-related improvements in physical performance and cardiac and metabolic health. In addition, his impact on the field was advanced even more through his extraordinary legacy of mentoring nearly 100 MD and PhD trainees and guiding them into their own successful academic careers.”

In 2000 at the Olympic Games in Sydney, the International Olympic Committee presented Holloszy with a gold medal, the IOC Olympic Prize in Sports Medicine. He received the award for his contributions to understanding the science behind enhanced athletic performance and disease state management.

Born in Vienna, Holloszy earned a bachelor’s degree in 1953 at Oregon State University. After receiving his medical degree from Washington University, he completed an internal medicine residency and endocrinology fellowship at what is now Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Next, he served two years as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service Heart Disease Control Program at the University of Illinois, where he conducted a series of studies on cardiovascular adaptations to exercise training in middle-aged men. He then returned to Washington University for postdoctoral training. He joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 1965, rising to the rank of full professor in 1973.

Holloszy is survived by his wife, Violetta, and a brother, Fred. A memorial service is being planned for the fall.

A fund to support research in exercise and healthy aging is being established in honor of Holloszy in the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science. Memorial contributions may be sent to: The John O. Holloszy Fund for Exercise and Aging Research (Attn: Rachel Hartmann); Washington University in St. Louis; Campus Box 1247; 7425 Forsyth Blvd.; St. Louis, Mo. 63105.

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