In the history of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), exercise research with animals has not always been regarded as an integral and important function of its members. Moreover, similar sentiments have prevailed with regard to the presentation and publication of animal studies. Specifically, several of the 54 charter members of the College, including Peter V. Karpovich and Thomas K. Cureton (2), were strongly opposed to the use of animals for exercise-related research (unpublished conversations with Drs. Karpovich, October 1962, and Cureton, May 1969). In the 1970’s, the late Philip D. Gollnick and the author had 13 abstracts rejected for presentation and publication purposes because animals were used as the experimental subjects. Although these beliefs and practices are no longer in existence, there is a growing concern among exercise scientists that select journals, including Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®, are publishing results from studies whose investigators have employed questionable methods to acutely and chronically exercise animals.
This situation exists, in part, because there are no official guidelines for investigators, institutions, or journal editors to use concerning the exercising of animals that have adequately and effectively addressed the ethical and humane features of the exercise prescription. This point becomes evident after careful inspection of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (3) and the American Physiological Society’s document entitled, Guiding Principles for research involving animals and human beings (1). The situation also exists because the animal models chosen for exercise experiments have frequently been selected for purposes of cost, convenience, and historical precedence rather than for an animal’s willingness and propensity to perform and to continue volitional exercise.
Animal exercise studies should not be undertaken or published unless they are addressing a legitimate scientific problem. Authors, institutions, and editors must recognize that it is unethical to prescribe exercise to cause pain, extreme discomfort, injury, or death to animals and that investigators must provide scientific and medical rationales to allow transient and unavoidable episodes of pain and discomfort to occur during the prescription. Unlike humans, animals do not have the opportunity to refuse to participate or the option to leave the experiment; hence, the implementation and the progression of the exercise prescription are the situations in which inhumane practices are likely to occur. Because it is only through the behavioral responses of animals in an exercise situation that one can discern their willingness to participate or their desire to continue, investigators must realize that not all animals designated for exercise studies should be selected or retained. Procedures used to encourage animals to exercise must always be humane in nature, and exercise prescriptions during the investigation must be flexible and subject to individual modifications. It also means that unwilling animals on treadmills will become more prone to injury as they seek ways to avoid running (dive under treadmill belts, jump off treadmills, bite electrical grids, etc.), whereas animals participating in swimming studies will repeatedly dive to seek “escape” routes. If tail weights are added to increase intensity and to reduce swim time, this inhumane procedure will markedly increase the risk for drowning and render the study unsuitable for publication purposes.
Although advocates for the need of guidelines for the exercise of animals have been active for more than a decade and have discussed the topic at several ACSM and American Physiological Society symposia, all mistakenly felt the issue should not become published so that animal users could avoid being the targets of harassment by various activist groups. Moreover, many advocates believed they could bring about changes via other methods. Not only did these reasons reflect poor logic and wistful thinking, they ignored the fundamental fact that experimental data obtained from the use of unethical and inhumane methods have no scientific value or place in the published literature.
Therefore, I urge the editorial board of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise ® to either develop the necessary guidelines for the exercising of animals that specifically addresses the ethical and humane considerations that currently are lacking in existing documents or to adopt relevant guidelines currently being prepared by other professional societies. Until such guidelines are adopted, I urge all editors to seek more assurance and explanations from authors that their animals have been exercised in an ethical and humane manner.
1. American Physiological Society. APS Guiding Principles for the Care and Use of Animals. Approved by APS Council in July 2000, pp.1–4.
2. Berryman, J. W. Out of Many, One. A History of American College of Sports Medicine. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics, 1995, pp. 286–287.
3. National Research Council. Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1996.