Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in health and wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, Founder of Cooper Aerobics, located in Dallas, TX, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Cooper Aerobics is a health and wellness organization with six health and wellness businesses—preventive medicine clinic, fitness center, spa, hotel, vitamins and supplements company, and B2B (business-to-business) arm offering corporate wellness programs—as well as our not-for-profit research institute.
I founded The Cooper Institute in June 1970, six months prior to opening the Cooper Clinic, to collect preventive medicine data. I began collecting consented patient data in a shoe box. Today that computerized “shoe box” is the largest study in the world with objectively measured fitness levels.
The world-renowned Cooper Center Longitudinal Study (CCLS) provides the opportunity to evaluate healthy people and how healthy lifestyles and preventive medicine affect the lives and longevity of individuals. The Cooper Institute is different because it focuses on well people and the “better together” approach between the Clinic and the Institute.
Throughout our 50 years, The Cooper Institute has proven:
- Being more fit is associated with lower cardiovascular disease
- Increasing fitness decreases the risk of dying from all causes by at least 58%
- Higher fitness levels significantly lower the risk of dementia later in life
- Higher levels of fitness at mid-life can reduce the healthcare cost between 65-75 years of age by 40%.
- The continued importance of fitness as a means to reduce mortality risk in today’s era
I also helped establish FitnessGram, the most widely used health-related youth fitness assessment tool in the world today. We have also proven that data drives decisions and that fit children become healthier adults. In addition, I was responsible for bringing physical education (PE) back into schools in multiple states and several foreign countries.
Our comprehensive medical evaluations at Cooper Clinic are both preventive and diagnostic. First of all, we try to prevent disease, particularly cancer and cardiovascular disease, but if we are not successful, our goal is to diagnose it early so that lives can be saved. As a result, in a 45-year follow-up of 100,000 of our patients, we have been able to show that they are living almost ten years longer than the national average. Our men’s life expectancy is 86.5 years, and our women's 90.4 years. They are more likely to “square off the curve,” that is, live a long and healthy life to the fullest and then die suddenly. In this way, they do not merely exist in the final months or years of their life when many reach a stage when they are even unable to recognize their family members. I have said on many occasions that “We spend way too much of our health care dollars on desperate measures which often prolong death, not life, for a miserable few days.” That may be why we are spending 3.2 trillion dollars per year on health care, twice as much as any other country in the world, yet we rank 43rd in longevity.
Overall, our medical examinations are ranked as one of the tops in the United States and include the following:
- A very comprehensive examination.
- An educational and motivational experience. Our physicians spend roughly 1-1/2 hours with each patient and see only three patients per day.
- The patients are given recommendations on how to correct any problems, excesses, and deficiencies in ways that are safe, effective, and realistic.
- We encourage them to come back. More than 74% of our patients return on a regular basis. They appreciate these examinations because of the convenience and rapidity in which they can be done and the peace of mind from our efficient and effective exam with same-day results.
I encourage you then to “Get Cooperized™,” as we call it, by adopting a healthy living mindset to live better both sooner and later. You can find my eight healthy steps on our website to help guide you on your health and wellness journey. We offer a variety of complimentary credible content, and you can receive our monthly e-newsletter, The Cooperized, directly in your inbox each month, chockful of health and wellness information on nutrition, prevention, vitamins and supplements, fitness workouts, recipes, and more.
Tell us about yourself
I truly believe in the power of prevention and that it is easier to maintain good health than to regain it once it is lost. I served in the military for 13 years, both in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force as a flight surgeon and director of the Aerospace Medical Laboratory Clinic in San Antonio, Texas. I worked with NASA to help create the conditioning program used to keep astronauts active in the weightlessness of space. During that time period, I developed assessments, including the 12-minute and the 1.5-mile fitness tests, both still used worldwide today by public schools and universities, athletic teams, and military and law enforcement agencies. In 1968 I published my book Aerobics. In this book, I introduced the concept of exercising in pursuit of good health and igniting a fitness revolution in America. I resigned from the military in 1970 to pursue this relationship between cardiovascular fitness and longevity and started my preventive medicine practice in Dallas, Texas.
I brought treadmill stress testing to Dallas in 1970; at that time, it was considered dangerous, and I was challenged and ridiculed for doing it. I was forced to testify before the Board of Censors, at which time I gave a very detailed presentation of my work in the Air Force and with NASA. I was not censored or restricted in any way. The second person in Dallas to use a treadmill for stress testing was the Chairman of the Board of Censors. Now maximal performance treadmill stress testing is a vital diagnostic tool used by physicians worldwide, particularly in the field of cardiology. With this test, we can pick up early coronary artery obstructive disease that is missed by a resting EKG long before it causes symptoms. Remember, the most common first symptom of severe underlying coronary artery disease is sudden death! This early diagnosis of early coronary disease may be one reason deaths from cardiovascular disease have been decreasing. It is estimated that up to 76% of diseases are preventable. The American Cancer Society has stated that up to half of all cancer deaths are preventable by following such recommendations as limiting obesity, inactivity, tobacco, and alcohol. We have also found that exercise is a part of rehabilitation following several medical and surgical problems. Many medical issues are completely preventable.
I believe my success is due to the following:
- Divine intervention.
- An outstanding staff (any CEO of an organization is going to be just as successful as his staff makes him).
- We have proven that it is cheaper and more effective to prevent disease than it is to find a cure.
- When people realize they have a need, you provide a service, and they get the results they want, they will make you successful in any field. This may be the reason we have such a high return rate among our patients.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Celebrating our 50th anniversary of Cooper Aerobics in 2020 has been a blessing. I never imagined my little two-room office with two employees would evolve into what it is today as a health and wellness company situated on 30 acres in north Dallas with a staff of around 500 employees and multiple successful businesses with the mission of helping people help themselves.
If you ask millennials today about life without exercise, most look surprised and typically answer, “Of course, I work out.” They do not know any differently and certainly find it hard to fathom that most people who did not exercise or many with health conditions were advised not to do so under their doctor’s care. I am thrilled we have proven that exercise is medicine and that fitness for people of all ages is a vital sign of health. All it requires is 30 minutes of exercise, collective or sustained, most days of the week. That means approximately 150 minutes of exercise each week, which is also the recommendation of The American College of Sports Medicine.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
You have to realize that there will always be challenges, criticisms and ups and downs which occur in any business venture. You also have to be willing to delegate responsibility. Any CEO will be just as successful as his staff makes him. Also, you have to realize that you are ultimately responsible and have to prove yourself time and time again. It can be challenging for a business owner. Our first few years were so stressful and challenging because of conflicts with the medical community, even to the extent that I seriously considered returning to the United States Air Force and completing my 20 years of service before retirement. Not only were many people in the medical community challenging what I was doing, but my friends and supporters in the early days did not think there was any way I could be financially successful practicing preventive medicine focused primarily on keeping people healthy, not seeing them only when they are sick. Also, when I was in medical school in the 1950s, we were taught that preventive medicine was “the Cinderella of medical specialties” because there was no profit in health, only profit in disease. For the first few years in Dallas, I thought that statement might be true.
I was challenged again in 1981 when a fire destroyed Cooper Fitness Center. I told the staff and members that I would build it back bigger and better. We were able to accomplish that goal in the following year, and the membership of the fitness center has remained steady except for the early days of COVID-19. We have now almost recovered from that challenge.
One of the main reasons I have been successful is that I am highly disciplined. Most people who work for me know me as the first in the office and the last to leave. I start my day with prayer and Bible study and end my day exercising at our fitness center. I had to have a way to deal with the stress and also practice what I preach. I exercise regularly on a stationary bicycle for 30 minutes, 4-5 days a week, plus practice a lightweight training routine for 10 minutes 3-4 times a week. Then I go home and walk my dogs around the neighborhood for 15-30 minutes most nights of the week.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- You need to build relationships and foster them. I would not have been able to purchase the property for the Cooper Aerobics Center without the help of my friends and supporters—Mr. Fred Meyer, Mr. Joe McKinney, Mr. Don Carter, and Mrs. Clarice Nichols—who provided endless advice and financing during challenging times.
- I have told my physicians and clinical staff that these examinations are expensive, and if the patients do not feel their dollars are well spent, they will not come back. One reason we have had success is that our patients are as equally concerned about how much we care as how much we know.
- I am convinced divine intervention has enabled me to be successful because, on many occasions in the past, with the decisions I had to make, I now realize that if I had made the decision I wanted, I would not be where I am today. If you had asked me 52 years ago if I would be doing what I am doing in 2022, I would have missed it a thousandfold. I now realize my vision was finite, but the Lord’s was infinite!
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
My motivation to keep working at 91 years of age is the wonderful response I get from my patients. They feel the recommendations and guidelines I have given them during the past 50 years are the reasons they are still “enjoying life to the fullest” in their advanced years while many of their friends and particularly family members have already passed away. And with nearly 75% of my medical school classmates already gone, and I am still working and enjoying good health, all I can say is, “Praise the Lord” since I believe “He has had his hand on my life” since the day I was born.
Where can people find you and your business?
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