The father of aerobics still works out five days a week at age 92. Here are his expert tips

A multi-ethnic group of adults are in the public swimming pool and are taking a water aerobics class together. They have their arms raised in the air and they are holding floating dumbbells.

A sedentary lifestyle can create health problems as people grow older. Water aerobics classes are just one type of aerobic exercise that can help you stay fit.FatCamera/E+/Getty Images

Editor’s note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.CNN — 

Ask a younger adult about the history of aerobics, and they may be puzzled. After all, the concept of aerobic exercise has always been around for those under 50. Ask someone 50-plus the same question, and they may guess the aerobics craze began with actor Jane Fonda, creator of the popular “Jane Fonda’s Workout ” series that debuted in 1982 and became one of the best-selling VHS tapes of all time.

But the concept of aerobics — a system of physical conditioning that increases heart health, boosts endurance and reduces body fat — was actually pioneered in the 1960s by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a physician and preventive medicine expert. He also coined the term with the release of his 1968 book “Aerobics.”

Initially, Cooper was condemned for encouraging exercise.

“In the 1950s and 1960s, exercise was considered dangerous,” Cooper said. “I was told the world will now be full of dead joggers. I got lots of tremendous criticism in the early years.”

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Dr. Kenneth Cooper pioneered the concept of aerobics in the 1960s. At 92, Cooper is still working to encourage people to become physically fit.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper pioneered the concept of aerobics in the 1960s. At 92, Cooper is still working to encourage people to become physically fit.Courtesy Dr. Kenneth Cooper

That opinion soon changed. Today, Cooper — now 92 — is still hard at work trying to encourage people to become physically fit. He’s head of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, which he founded in 1970. The center is made up of six health and wellness companies, including a clinic, and The Cooper Institute, a nonprofit research and education center.

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Cooper is also creator of the 12-minute run and FitnessGram PACER tests, which measure aerobic capacity and fitness. Millions around the globe have taken these assessments, often during a school gym class.

What’s more, the fitness fanatic has authored more than a dozen books in addition to “Aerobics,” was the driving force behind a 20,000-person study showing increased fitness is associated with lowered instances of dementia, and has received a raft of awards and recognition for his lifetime achievements.

Cooper recently shared his thoughts with CNN on global fitness and health in the 21st century.

This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity.

CNN: What’s one of the most positive developments in fitness that you’ve seen over the past 50 years?

Dr. Kenneth Cooper: When we (Cooper and his wife, Mildred Cooper) wrote “Aerobics for Women” in 1979, the question was asked if it was ladylike for a woman to sweat. That’s how bad it was back in those days.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 23: Sifan Hassan of Netherlands celebrates while crossing the finish line to win the Elite Woman's Marathon during the 2023 TCS London Marathon on April 23, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Olympic track champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the women’s race of the London Marathon in April.Alex Davidson/Getty Images

One of the biggest revolutions is looking at how many women are marathoners now. In the past, women were told they weren’t supposed to run. They said your uterus would fall out and all of these crazy things. That didn’t happen at all. If you look at the number of marathoners now, almost half are women. That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen.

CNN: Despite all of the information available today about the benefits of being physically active, many people are sedentary. How big of a problem is this?

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Cooper: What I’ve been teaching and preaching all of these years is that your health is your responsibility. It’s not the government’s, it’s not the insurance company’s, it’s not your physician’s. No drug can replicate the benefits of an active lifestyle.

We need to get the word out because WHO (World Health Organization) reported in October 2022 we have 500 million people globally that are totally sedentary, and it costs $27 billion a year. We need people to realize that what determines how long you live, and how well you live, is what you’re going to do for yourself from now on.

CNN: Why do you think so many people ignore this message?

Cooper: “TEMMPF” — I don’t have the Time, I don’t have the Energy, I don’t have the Motivation or the Money. I don’t have a Place to exercise, and it’s not Fun.

CNN: You are credited with helping get PE classes back into schools after many began dropping them in the 1980s. How did that happen?

Cooper: That happened because of the FitnessGram. We found that the kids who scored the highest on the FitnessGram test made better grades in school and had less absenteeism and gang problems than those in the bottom category. That made front-page news here in Texas, where I then helped pass Senate Bill 530 in 2007, which mandates PE in Texas schools.

CNN: You talk about trying to “Cooperize” the world. What does that mean?

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Cooper: That means No. 1, get your body weight between 18 and 25 on the BMI (body mass index) scale; No. 2, get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week; No. 3, make healthy food choices; No. 4, no tobacco in any form; No. 5, control your alcohol; No. 6, control the stress in your life; No. 7, get regular physical exams; and No. 8, take the right supplements for you.

CNN: How often do you exercise, and what’s a typical workout?

Cooper: I exercise five days a week routinely. The other day I spent 45 minutes on a recumbent bike and about 10 minutes on circuit weight training on three or four machines. Then I went home and walked my two dogs. I walk them about 15 minutes on average — usually about a mile to a mile and a half. So I’m incorporating at least an hour of aerobic activity, plus my weight training, at least five days a week.

CNN: Do you really need that much exercise at 92?

Cooper: Fitness is a journey, not a destination. You’ve got to keep it up the rest of your life. You can’t just get it and store it.

Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer who specializes in hiking, travel and fitness.

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