Insights from Dr. Kenneth Cooper: The Pioneer of Aerobics


Editor’s note: Before starting any new fitness program, make sure to consult with your healthcare provider. Stop right away if you experience discomfort.

The History of Aerobics and Its Role in Fitness

Aerobics might seem like a constant in the world of fitness, especially for those who grew up with it being a staple. However, the concept of aerobic exercise and its fitness craze has a history that might seem surprising to some. Many might recall the aerobics trend picking up steam with the release of actress Jane Fonda’s “Workout ” series in 1982. It quickly picked up and became one of the top-selling VHS tapes in history.

The Birth of Aerobics

But the actual conceptualization of aerobics — a systematic approach to physical conditioning that increases cardiovascular health, enhances stamina, and reduces body fat — took place in the 1960s. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a doctor and preventive medicine expert, initiated it. He also introduced the term ‘aerobics’ with the publication of his 1968 book “Aerobics.”

The Controversy Around Exercise in the 1960s

Initially, Cooper faced a significant backlash for endorsing exercise.

“During the 1950s and 1960s, exercise was considered dangerous,” Cooper stated. “I was warned that the world would be overrun with dead joggers. The early years were filled with tremendous criticism.”


Cooper’s Continued Efforts in Propagating Fitness

Today, at the age of 92, Cooper continues his mission to encourage individuals to embrace physical fitness. He’s the founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, established in 1970. This center comprises six health and wellness companies, including a clinic and The Cooper Institute, a nonprofit research and education center.

Cooper’s Contributions to Fitness Testing

Cooper is also the creator of the 12-minute run and FitnessGram PACER tests, evaluations designed to measure aerobic capacity and fitness levels. These tests have been taken by millions worldwide, often as part of a school physical education curriculum.

Cooper’s Achievements and Recognition

Besides introducing the concept of aerobics, Cooper has authored more than a dozen books, led a study involving 20,000 participants demonstrating the link between increased fitness levels and reduced dementia instances, and earned numerous awards and recognitions for his lifetime contributions.

Cooper’s View on Global Fitness and Health in the Modern Era

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

This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity.

An Interview with Dr. Kenneth Cooper

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, there was a question if it was appropriate for a woman to sweat. That’s how bad it was back in those days.


A big revolution is the number of women who have become marathoners. There was a time when women were discouraged from running, being fed absurd beliefs like their uterus would fall out. Of course, this has proven to be untrue. Today, nearly half of all marathoners are women. In my opinion, that’s one of the most significant changes I’ve observed.

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