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The Golden Age of Aerobics

Today, we all know the health benefits of daily exercise. But, did you know that aerobic training has its roots right here in North Texas?

In 1968, Joe McKinney, President of the Tyler Corporation in Dallas, read Dr. Kenneth H.

Cooper’s newly published book “Aerobics” and invited him to speak to the Tyler Corporation executives. Encouraged by the support of the Tyler Corporation, Dr. Cooper decided to retire from the Air Force and build an aerobics institute in Dallas. The Tyler Corporation loaned him the $1.25 million he needed to begin his life-long work to show that exercise is medicine.


For 50 years, Dr. Kenneth Cooper has been focused on the question, “What if men and women could slow the aging process and avoid serious health problems by keeping their body in good physical condition?” A global spotlight was directed toward The Cooper Institute as it continued to collect and study the data that Dr. Cooper began collecting in 1970 – data that would prove exercise is medicine.

What started with Dr. Cooper collecting information on index cards, has now evolved into a database containing 2.5 gigabytes of unprecedented, priceless data. The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study (CCLS) is the largest and longest longitudinal study in the world with measured fitness. The study gives researchers access to extensive laboratory results, body fat analysis, bone density measures, nutritional profiles, CT scans, and treadmill tests. There are over 115,000 participants in the study with more than 3,000 variables per visit including fitness. 

The Cooper Institute’s landmark study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1989, showed the association between being fit and lower mortality, primarily due to lowered rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. This paper, based on data from the CCLS, was the impetus for the American Heart Association to include physical inactivity as a preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Research from the CCLS continues to evaluate the benefits of regular exercise, healthy lifestyle, and preventive healthcare; effectively proving again and again that exercise truly is medicine.

Youth Programs

In 1970, Dr. Kenneth Cooper penned the charter document and vision for The Cooper Institute with five points – the last point addressing children and physical fitness.  

“Initiate studies with various ages of school children in an effort to improve the effectiveness of physical education programs in an attempt to educate, motivate and prepare school children for the inherent health problems of an affluent society.”

Now 50 years later, we are seeing that his foresight of the youth health problems in the United States is a reality. FitnessGram by The Cooper Institute is the most widely used health-related youth fitness assessment tool in the world. Thanks to FitnessGram and powerful partnership programs with the NFL and the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, our programs help over 10 million children each year learn how to make healthier choices and stay active. Research conducted by The Cooper Institute proves that students who participate in school-based physical activity programs like the NFL PLAY 60 in conjunction with fitness assessments, like FitnessGram have improved aerobic fitness and healthier body weight.  Research also shows that fitter students do better academically, behaviorally, and have better attendance to school – all of which can lead to enhanced success in school.

COVID-19 has disrupted all of our lives, but our youth have experienced the greatest impact. The transition to online learning and an absence of routine daily physical activity are just some of the challenges our students have faced as schools nationwide shut down during the pandemic. Research also shows that exercise is an important part of preventing and treating adolescent depression - something our children are facing in the wake of social distancing and uncertainty about their future. During this time, The Cooper Institute has been working with partners such as SHAPE America, Mission Readiness, Action for Healthy Kids and the National Football League Foundation to name a few, in an effort to share online physical activity, physical education, and FitnessGram resources.  These efforts will guide the health and wellness discussion for our children’s future.

The Cooper Institute translates the latest scientific findings into proactive solutions that improve public health. Key areas of focus are research, education and advocacy. Through these initiatives, The Cooper Institute helps people lead better, longer lives now and Well. Into the Future.

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