Exercise never gets old for UNLV professor

Larry Golding is not like you.

Not to be rude, but Golding, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, almost certainly has more patience.

In the early days of his career, Golding asked a fairly basic question: What effect does daily exercise have on cholesterol levels and other measures of heart health?

He spent 50 years looking for the answer.

But he is not all that impressed with himself. It was nothing, really. Just digging up a little evidence for what everybody already figured, anyway: Exercise is good for you.

"Now we have data to prove what we knew," he said.

Golding, who is 84 now and still teaching, grew up in South Africa. He swam on the national team. Came to America in the 1940s for an education.

He got three degrees, including his doctorate, from the University of Illinois.

As a young professor at Kent State University, where he started his academic career in 1958, he applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health. The money, $15,000 a year for four years, was to pay for a study to determine how daily exercise affected the cholesterol levels in men.

He got a group of men together. They exercised every day. Their cholesterol levels were checked periodically.

He published the results, which said that daily exercise did, indeed, help lower cholesterol levels and keep them down.

And when the grant money ran out, Golding kept going. He followed those men for 18 years.

Then, in 1976, he was lured to UNLV, which was starting a new exercise physiology program.

Golding wasn't sure about coming. What about all of his research?

But he came anyway. He started doing the same thing here. But this time, he included women. People of all ages. Colleagues and community members. Pretty much anyone who wanted to participate.

The group exercised, again, every day. Nothing complicated. Stretching, sit-ups, swimming, running, step exercises.

Golding led those exercise sessions himself for 33 years.

He said the study averaged about 100 participants at a time, about 900 people overall over the years. Some died and some simply dropped out. But he had a cohort large enough to publish results last year that spanned more than 20 years of study.

Golding said he had realized, after a while, that he was not simply studying exercise on a random group of people. He also was studying how exercise affected aging.

By the end, he had middle-aged subjects who were as healthy as some of the kids in his classes.

"We had people who could do as many sit-ups and pull-ups as incoming freshmen at UNLV, because they did it every day."

He said the results of his study showed a couple of things: Exercise significantly reduced cholesterol levels in the first two years. After that, the benefits tapered off.

But what he finds fascinating, he said, is that regular, daily exercise appears to delay some of the effects of aging.

Typically, when someone ages, their muscles weaken, their flexibility subsides, and their cholesterol levels rise. It simply happens, and seemed inevitable.

But Golding said his work shows that's not true. Just an hour of exercise, nothing fancy, can keep someone as strong, flexible and cholesterol healthy as someone much younger.

Golding said he is the perfect example.

At 84, he's old. But since stopping the program almost two years ago, he isn't exercising as much as he was. He used to lead two classes a day.

He feels much older now than he did then. He blames the decline in exercise.

A couple of the study's long-term participants had similar views.

"We've only been doing it 15 years," said Darrell Pepper, a mechanical engineering professor who joined up in 1995.

"We're rookies," said Dick Hoyt, a real estate-finance professor who also joined the study in 1995.

Pepper, 64, said he can "still do my age in push-ups." He credits the daily exercise with his general physical fitness.

Hoyt, 71, said his cardiologist recently told him he didn't need to come in for a checkup every six months, as he had been doing. Hoyt seemed so healthy, once a year was fine.

"Mine, too," Pepper said.

Pepper said he used to feel himself dragging in the afternoons. Since joining the study, which had exercise sessions at noon every day, he feels like he has a whole new day ahead of him after lunch.

Both men are continuing their exercise programs, even though the study is over.

They have run into other participants -- many of them were UNLV employees or students -- who said the same thing.

Golding said he has considered launching a new study to see how many of the original study's participants are doing the same thing. How hooked have they become on exercise?

He isn't sure, just yet, how long such a study might take to complete.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.