When Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., published his first bestseller, Aerobics, in 1968, he introduced a new word and a new concept — launching a worldwide fitness revolution. Since Cooper Aerobics Center’s founding more than 40 years ago, Dr. Cooper continues to be recognized as the leader of the international physical fitness movement and credited with motivating more people to exercise in pursuit of good health than any other person. In 1968, only 100,000 people were jogging in America. That number is now more than 30 million strong, thanks to the work and influence of Dr. Cooper.
Born March 4, 1931, in Oklahoma City, Dr. Cooper’s father, a periodontist, instilled in him the idea and desire to practice preventive medicine. With a natural ability in sports and a strong academic mind, Dr. Cooper completed his undergraduate and medical degrees at the University of Oklahoma. He holds a Master of Public Health degree from the Harvard University School of Public Health and is certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine.
Dr. Cooper joined the military in 1957. During his 13 years of service in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force, Dr. Cooper served as a flight surgeon and director of the Aerospace Medical Laboratory in San Antonio. He dreamed of becoming an astronaut and worked with the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) to help create the conditioning program preparing America’s astronauts for space and in-flight anti-deconditioning program used on board spacecraft. He also developed the 12-minute and 1.5-mile fitness tests and the Aerobics Point System, all used today by military organizations, amateur and professional athletic teams, law enforcement agencies, and many public schools and universities all over the world.
Dr. Cooper’s work with the Air Force and NASA launched his aerobics life work, but it was his own health crisis that made it personal. While water skiing at age 29, Dr. Cooper thought he was having a heart attack. At the hospital, his doctor told him he was simply out of shape, having gained 40 pounds and becoming inactive due to the stress of medical school. That first-hand experience catapulted the young doctor to lose weight and run his first marathon, the Boston Marathon, a year later.
After the publication of Aerobics, Dr. Cooper resigned from the Air Force to pursue full-time exploration of the relationship between cardiovascular fitness and health and longevity. In 1970 Dr. Cooper’s dream became a reality with the opening of Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas where he serves as chairman of eight health and wellness companies and a research and education nonprofit The Cooper Institute. He expanded his vision by adding a second fitness center and day spa at Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas.
Dr. Cooper’s vision is shared by his son, Tyler Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., who is the CEO of Cooper Aerobics Enterprises, Inc., and a preventive medicine physician at Cooper Clinic. A 600-person staff supports the Coopers’ mission to encourage optimal health.
Stretching his international reach, Dr. Cooper has lectured in more than 50 countries. He is most famous in Brazil having trained the 1970 Brazilian soccer team to a World Cup victory. In Brazil, running is called “coopering” or “doing the cooper.” In Hungary, the “cooperteszt” is the name of the national fitness test.
In addition to Aerobics, which has been translated into 41 languages and Braille and total more than 30 million copies sold, Dr. Cooper has authored 18 other books. The Drs. Cooper released their first-ever book as a father/son team, Start Strong, Finish Strong (Avery) in 2007.
From the time of his first book, Dr. Cooper has advocated revolutionizing the field of medicine away from disease treatment to disease prevention through aerobic exercise. The Cooper philosophy, “It is easier to maintain good health through proper exercise, diet, and emotional balance than to regain it once it is lost,” has been proven valid in scientific research.
Dr. Cooper’s mark has also been felt on the American diet. His collaboration with PepsiCo and eliminating trans fats from its Frito-Lay snack line started an international wave that other companies are now following. On the back of Baked Lay’s packages, you’ll find this quote from Dr. Cooper, “Fitness is a journey, not a destination. It must be continued for the rest of your life.”
A grandfather of five, Dr. Cooper has become passionately involved in the fight against childhood obesity both locally and globally. He created the Our Kids’ Health initiative led by The Cooper Institute to reverse the growing obesity epidemic in his home state and across the country. In Texas, Dr. Cooper was instrumental in getting physical education back in schools through the passage of Senate Bill 530 that requires enhanced PE activity levels and annual physical fitness testing, which was awarded to The Cooper Institute’s FITNESSGRAM®.
In 2009, The Cooper Institute partnered with NFL Charities through the PLAY 60 initiative to bring FITNESSGRAM to students in more than 1,000 schools nationwide.
Beyond the health of individuals, Dr. Cooper is leading Cooper Corporate Solutions in their quest to improve the health of employees nationwide to impact healthcare costs of companies and the country. Through executive risk management, employee wellness programs, benefits consulting, and executive training, Cooper Corporate Solutions helps companies control health care costs, reduce absenteeism, and improve productivity.
As an Octogenarian and having logged more than 38-thousand miles running, Dr. Cooper sets an example for maintaining a healthy lifestyle by exercising at Cooper Aerobics Center on a regular basis, along with his wife Millie and their daughter, Berkley, and son, Tyler, and their families—all “coopering” for health.