NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

50 Years After 'Aerobics,' Cooper Family Of Dallas Says Recess, Gym Class Are Crucial

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
KUT News
First grade students of Ortega Elementary School in Austin, Texas, play during recess in January 2017.

It’s been 50 years since Dr. Kenneth Cooper wrote “Aerobics,” the best-seller that helped launch the country's fitness movement.

His son, Dr. Tyler Cooper, continues the family legacy at the Dallas-based Cooper Aerobics Center. He talked with KERA’s Lee Cullum on the TV program "CEO" about how fitness research is changing — and what can be done to get children in better shape.

Interview Highlights: Dr. Tyler Cooper

On the current thrust of his research

It’s still very much focused around fitness and the effects of fitness on improving the quality and quantity of life. Fifty years later, my dad has changed the world with the promotion of exercise and so forth, but yet, in America and around the world, we see this growing crisis of chronic disease. And so much of what we relate it to now is: How can exercise help at a multitude of different levels, whether it be financially, whether it be through education? We’ve also extended our research beyond that into nutrition and mental aspects…so trying to broaden what we do.

On returning to mandatory physical education in schools

Part of it goes back to the No Child Left Behind Act, where we were trying to raise test scores and taking away (from my understanding, at least) time from physical education and putting it back into the classroom with the thoughts being that would improve grades. But in fact, what we found is that by improving physical fitness, you actually see an improvement in standardized achievements. Our hope is with programs like FitnessGram — we are in 40,000 schools around the country — in measuring fitness that we’ll be able to prove to administrators the need for the improvements of academics through the improvements of fitness, which the side effect is, by the way, improving the life of that child.

On a president’s fitness influencing the nation’s health

The leader of the free world is promoting what we believe. President George W. Bush was a huge advocate for fitness for us. Interesting story: He actually started working with my dad as a patient back when Bush owned the Texas Rangers and kept my dad as his doctor throughout his entire presidency. My dad used to go up to Washington D.C. every year to do his exam. President Bush was in tremendous health — and still is. One time when my dad visited him about stress. Bush had answered on the questionnaire that he was only “moderately stressed.” My dad said, “You’re the president of the United States, how can you be ‘moderately stressed?’” And Bush said, “Because I exercise every day.”

On the polarization of health in the United States, from access to lifestyle

Food is a challenge, without question. I’m on the board here in Dallas of the North Texas Food Bank. What I’ve been so happy to see with the food bank, which feeds so many people in our city, they’re not just giving people bad food — they’re not giving them a bunch of processed, fast food. They actually work really hard to give nutritious food to people who are in need. But again, it goes back to educating the children. That’s where I think government could have the greatest impact in improving our health: putting the efforts back into schools to provide nutritious, healthy meals, teach the kids why it matters, make it tasty, and then also, giving them more recess, more playtime. It doesn’t even have to be structure physical education, but just letting them be active. That’s the best thing we could probably do for our country right now.

Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Watch the entire "CEO" interview with Dr. Tyler Cooper here.