I am NOT neutral about Ken Cooper. I like the man. I admire his contributions and initiatives; he is an exercise and fitness pioneer whose works have benefited countless citizens. In fact, I consider Ken Cooper an American hero, a trailblazer who provided a foundation for the wellness movement. Ken is also a friend of mine — we have been together on many occasions and shared membership in the late and lamented “National Fitness Leaders Association,” an honorary body whose members were selected by the President’ s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports with support from Allstate Insurance Company and the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce. We have exchanged lots of materials over the years. Going way back, his books on aerobics were among the scientific resources that helped convince my graduate school administrators that wellness was a field deserving of the research I proposed for a doctoral dissertation.
March 4, 2011 was Ken Cooper’s 80th birthday. Let’s all give three cheers for a grand old man responsible for a world of good works. America is fat and unfit, for the most part, but not because Ken Cooper did not do more than his part to promote a healthy nation. In fact, without his presence on this earth for the past 80 years, things would be much worse. A few years ago, I did an extensive interview with Dr. Cooper. I told him that I thought he should consider promoting wellness more and fitness less, however important exercise is. I wanted him to be less of a guru, also, though our celebrity-focused culture no doubt applies all manner of incentives for him to go along with that role. But I have always wanted to see him lose that white coat, doctor outfit with stethoscope dangling from his neck. This first was seen on the cover of his books and later at his websites! In my quality of life way of seeing things, wellness lifestyles are not medical matters but challenges of philosophy and self-management (more more and far beyond the business of a doctor). The doctor image seems to portray an expert with authority, a figure who has all the answers. In a wellness context, the individual is the responsible agent – and a doctor, nurse and for that matter, all other professionals are simply resources for advice, when called upon. These are some of the concerns I raised with Dr. Cooper and are discussed in this interview.
The first challenge in my view is for physicians and other health promoters to empower consumers with the sense that they can take charge of their own lifestyles. (Not because of doctor’s orders but because they appreciate that exercise and a wellness lifestyle represent a better way to live, as well as a healthier choice.) I wonder if now it might be time for Dr. Cooper to go off on a very long vacation – he’s worked hard enough. Is there no end to how much endurance for duty this man has. Maybe he should slow down a bit-smell the roses more-it’s hard to believe that anyone (let alone a guy who just turned 80) is still going so strong.
A little background on the good doctor is in order for some younger readers. Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., wrote the landmark book, “Aerobics” in 1968. This was based on groundbreaking work as a U.S. Air Force flight surgeon and director of the Aerospace Medical Laboratory in San Antonio. “Aerobics” introduced Cooper’s 12-minute test and his “Aerobics Point System.” The book represented a plea to refocus the entire field of medicine away from disease treatment to disease prevention through aerobic exercise. From this time forward, Cooper’s message has been: “It is easier to maintain good health through proper exercise, diet and emotional balance than it is to regain it once it is lost.” For at least 30 years, the message was not heeded. In part because of this message and because of a lot of other similar messages during the last decade, it is now happening – medicine is shifting toward prevention and even health promotion. But the transition is slow.
It is often said that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart brought more …