Bengt Saltin was born in Sweden on June 3rd, 1935, and grew up near Stockholm with his mother Margaret and father Sven Saltin who were public school teachers.  He was raised in close contact with nature, and in his formative years was an athlete but interested in forestry as a career.  However, his mother swayed his professional focus towards medicine and so he went on to study at Karolinska Institute where Ulf van Euler recruited him as an assistant. van Euler (1970, Nobel laureate) had already discovered several vasoactive substances, including noradrenaline. Bengt expressed interest in sport, so he was introduced to the Danish Professor Erik Hohwü Christensen, who after working with August Krogh and Johannes Lindhard in Copenhagen, was appointed director of the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics in Stockholm (now The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences). In the summer of 1959, Bengt began his academic training in Exercise Physiology, and his first research study on the physiology of intermittent exercise was published in 1960.

Prof Bengt Saltin, ECSS founding member, ECSS Patron
03.06.1935 - 12.09.2014

In 1964, Bengt defended his doctorate with Hohwü Christensen and Per-Olof Åstrand as mentors and then embarked on a prodigious span of research in the field of exercise physiology in which he was to become a world leader. During the 60’s Bengt was fortunate to work with some of the leading exercise physiologists producing several classical articles, mostly dealing with factors limiting exercise performance and adaptations to training. In the mid-sixties, he worked with Jonas Bergstrom and Erik Hultman starting a new line of research focusing on muscle adaptations to exercise which he pursued during the decades to follow. In the late 60’s his work in Dallas on “Response to exercise after bed rest and after training” had a major impact in both physiology and medicine, and contributed to him being awarded the International Olympic Committee Prize in Sport Sciences in 2002, -the highest recognition a scientist can receive from the international sports world. In 1973 he was appointed professor at the University of Copenhagen where he continued his career first at the August Krogh Institute and later as Director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Centre (CMRC). At the CMRC several Danish groups with diverse expertise and methodologies made it possible to investigate cardiovascular and muscle physiology from the systemic to the most advanced molecular levels, and the rich research environment Bengt nurtured there brought both international interest and collaboration. Bengt led several field expeditions to the Himalayas, Andes, North Greenland and Kenya, where several aspects of human adaptation to environment were studied. He also led some comparative physiology studies in horses and camels, which became classics in the field.

Bengt had a tremendous curiosity about diverse scientific areas, and an enormous capacity for work; he published more than 500 works,  mentored many students from around the world and also served a term as Dean of the Faculty of Science while at the University of Copenhagen. He was a Knight of the Dannebrog (Royal Danish Decoration) and was honoured with the Swedish king's gold medal. He was a member of Danish Academy of Sciences, received honorary doctorates from 12 universities, and received numerous honorary awards throughout his life, including Novo Nordisk Prize.

Amongst the numerous achievements of his remarkable career, he was the first President of the European College of Sport Science (1995-1997) of which he was one of the founding fathers. He brought to the College his extensive experience and knowledge in exercise physiology and actively promoted the value of an empirical approach to sport science. His strong background in biomedical sciences and close interest in the Arts disciplines were instrumental for developing the ECSS as a strong, multidisciplinary, international scientific organisation.

He was an exceptionally talented scientist, capable of covering almost every aspect of exercise physiology. His work contributed significantly to advance the understanding of muscle metabolism, regulation of the circulation and the mechanisms of adaptation to exercise training. When asked about what is the secret of a successful research career, he replied “a good question”. He enjoyed discussions probing hypotheses on physiological mechanisms and he was thrilled by the challenge of seemingly impossible experiments, which he often made real. His scientific contributions in the field of exercise physiology have had a major impact in the field of public health, which he remained devoted to as a physician. Bengt took great interest in literature, history and the arts, and gravitated to nature when he had time. He had an impeccable memory, which combined with his sharp intellect and humble humour made him a fascinating storyteller. Bengt Saltin died peacefully, surrounded by his family in Stockholm. He was 79. He will be deeply missed by those close to him and by many colleagues and students around the world who knew him personally. He was not only a brilliant scientist, he was a truly remarkable human being.

Jose A L Calbet, Robert Boushel & Marco Narici


In memory of Prof Bengt Saltin:

Honorary Session at ECSS Barcelona 2013, 29th of June 2013