The Right Stuff Award: Dr. Kenneth Cooper

“The Right Stuff ” is a term popularized by author Tom Wolfe in his rollicking, uproarious, roller-coaster-ride of a book by the same name:¬† a book about the seven¬†original astronauts¬†selected for Project Mercury.

They were men who had what it took to climb into a massive rocket loaded with explosive fuel and blast off into space. They had the Right Stuff.

In that spirit I’ll present awards from time to time to people with the Right Stuff. People who take on a challenge and triumph over obstacles. Or who suddenly, unexpectedly find themselves in a challenging situation and rise to the occasion quietly and competently. Those who demonstrate what a single person can accomplish if she or he has the Right Stuff.

And the fourth Right Stuff Award goes to Dr. Kenneth Cooper of Dallas, Texas

Bucking the conventional wisdom takes courage. And as recently as the late 1960’s, the conventional wisdom was that the treatment for heart attacks was rest–lots and lots of rest. In fact, when Kenneth Cooper¬†was in medical school,

We¬†were taught that you shouldn’t exercise vigorously after 40 years of age [because] you’ll kill yourself.

Publication of Aerobics book

After medical school, Dr. Cooper joined the Army. He later switched to the Air Force where he conducted research and developed the 12-minute fitness test, the treadmill stress test, and the Aerobics Point System. His book Aerobics, about his findings, was published in 1968 and sold very well to the public.

However, the book¬†caused an uproar in the medical community. Doctors warned that the streets would be full of dead joggers if people followed Cooper’s recommendations.¬†¬†

Move to Dallas

In 1970, Dr. Cooper left the Air Force and moved to Dallas. There he started¬†his practice in preventive medicine¬†and created the Cooper Aerobics Center¬†, a research institute. The Cooper Center’s philosophy is that it is easier to maintain good health through proper exercise, diet and emotional balance then to regain it once it is lost.

According to Dr. Cooper, the idea of preventive medicine was still unheard of. Physicians thought exercise would kill people, though some of the opposition seemed to spring more from self-interest then from other considerations. Some doctors in Dallas expressed concern that Dr. Cooper was trying to put them out of business while others questioned how a doctor could make a living taking care of healthy people.

Hearing on license revocation

The Dallas County Medical Society tried to shut down the business, and at one point, Dr. Cooper was even called before the Dallas Board of Censures, which considered revoking his medical license because he was conducting treadmill tests on people with heart disease.

Fortunately, after Dr. Cooper presented his voluminous research findings about the effects of his tests, the board decided against revoking his license. And the chairman of the board decided to perform maximal stress testing in his own practice.

Recent accomplishments

Since writing Aerobics, Dr. Cooper has written 18 other books on fitness. His latest book was co-written with his son Dr. Tyler Cooper who works with him at the Cooper Center. In 2007 Dr. Cooper founded the Our Kids Health Foundation , lobbied for legislation requiring schools to increase P.E. class time and give yearly fitness tests, and raised $2.5 million from private citizens and organizations to fund the testing.

Now 78, Dr. Cooper is CEO of the Cooper Aerobics Center, lectures internationally, sees some patients, and travels with his family. He continues to practice what he preaches with a program of aerobic exercise and strength training.

Dr. Cooper’s Aerobics book has had a huge influence on my life. What about you? I’d love to hear from you.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • physician assistant 09/21/2010, 4:02 pm

    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  • Madeleine Kolb 09/17/2010, 2:18 pm

    It’s interesting that, initially, Dr. Cooper didn’t think weight training was necessary. But the research and his own experience changed his mind. I read once he said that his running times were still good but he noticed he was having trouble carrying groceries from the car to the house. So he started lifting weights in addition to walking and running to counteract the decrease of muscle tissue which comes with age.

    Thank you for your comment.

  • Christopher Foster 09/17/2010, 1:30 pm

    Such an excellent post Madeleine. I hadn’t heard of Dr. Cooper and was delighted to read your most interesting and right-on article about him.
    I’m 78, a young fellow, and one of the real pleasures of my life for the past 8 years or so besides walking is going to the gym. I do resistance training three times a week and do biking and walking there too. But the strength work is what I enjoy most and my body seems to enjoy it too.
    I’ve had one or two difficult times during this past 8-9 years and I’m quite sure that regular work-outs at the gym, particularly the lifting, has helped bring me through.
    I am so happy that you are doing this blog Madeleine. I think it’s such a fine contribution.
    Keep up the good work, as they say.

  • Madeleine Kolb 09/14/2010, 8:09 pm

    Dr. Cooper’s life is a great example of how old myths often die hard. He’s also a great example of how finding one’s passion in life can keep a person strong and happy and productive to a ripe old age.

  • Lauren 09/14/2010, 6:45 pm

    Wow, it’s good we no longer burn at the stake! Good for Dr. Cooper and what a great contribution he’s made.

    Thanks for telling us about him!


  • Madeleine Kolb 09/12/2010, 8:42 pm

    Hi Tom,
    Exercise is a huge factor in staying fit and healthy. I’ve exercised most of my life, indoors or outdoors, running or walking. It makes such a big difference in staying healthy and energetic at any age.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Tom Huntington 09/12/2010, 8:21 pm

    Hi Madeleine,

    Right on! We all have “the right stuff”, yet most people don’t seem to know how to “use” their “stuff”.

    I’m 65 and proud of of it. I started going to “Body-Mind Integration movement” (my term) classes 9 years ago now, and I am more fit and have less aches and pains then I did in my 50’s. Two weeks ago I attended a 3-day intensive (9:00am to 6:00pm each day) and afterwards a man at least 20 years younger in very good health told me how I inspired him because I had noticeably more energy and agility and presence all during the weekend than he did.

    I used to work as an attorney (notice I don’t say I “am” an attorney). A few years ago I had a woman come to see me with her daughter to do a living trust. I would have guessed she was in her mid to late 70’s. I was so surprised when I read her age as 92 that I couldn’t help remark with sincere interest and want to know her secret. Well, she had one. She walked EVERYwhere! And in the southern California planned community where she lived and my practice was, WALKING two blocks is unusual. She inspired me to make even more commitment to my movement/dance practice. I now exercise regularly six days a week and I LOVE to work out..

    Thanks for helping to counter our culture’s negative myths about aging.

    .-= Tom Huntington´s last blog ..Make the Effort to Be Open to Learning Every Moment =-.