Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, now 86, is the most famous living guru in the field of fitness. He is the father of the aerobic movement whose books, medical clinic, research and lectures have probably turned a million or more television addicts into regular athletes. Cooper’s first book, Aerobics, recalls some of the wisdom of Schopenhauer, who noted that all reforms have three stages: first they are ignored, then they are vigorously opposed, and finally they are accepted as obvious.
I know Dr. Cooper. He and his wife Millie are widely admired. Only a nutcase would get upset, criticize, picky, or get mad at your job. Really, who would dare to give a negative evaluation on the recommendations of this famous exercise guru? Well, it would.
I am opposed to Cooper’s highly publicized Twelve Steps to Good Health. Cooper’s 12 Steps should not be confused with the more well-known 12 Steps of Alcohol Anonymous, Joshua Rosenthal’s 12 Steps to Improving Your Health for Life, or Gabriel MA Segal’s book Twelve Steps to Good Psychological Health and Serenity. I’m not in love with these 12-step approaches either, but this review is just about Dr. Cooper’s signature 12-step recommendations.
Before outlining my concerns, take a look at Cooper’s Twelve Steps to Good Health.
1. Stop using tobacco and drugs.
2. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 10 drinks per week.
3. Start exercising.
4. Use less salt, eat less fat, especially animal fat.
5. Eat more fresh vegetables.
6. Avoid obesity.
7. Take adequate dietary supplements, which include calcium and antioxidant vitamins C, E, and A.
8. Faster your seat belt.
9. Avoid sun exposure.
10. Get vaccinations.
11. Get proper prenatal care.
12. Get regular medical exams.
The steps are repetitive and obvious (avoid smoking and obesity), too general (how much more of the good things, how much less of the bad?), Debatable (taking supplements), and in one case inapplicable to half of the population (prenatal care)
In short, they are not much. From such an acclaimed fitness expert, I think we should expect 12 groundbreaking and specific exercise tips that we don’t know about yet – all reasonably specific.
Of course, 12 REAL wellness tips would be better.
Cooper’s steps reconsidered
Here is a critique of each step.
1. Stop using tobacco and drugs? Are you kidding? That is impossible for most people because they would not be caught dead or alive with tobacco products. (As for the drugs, well, that depends on the drugs.) Still, most people don’t smoke or abuse drugs, although pain relievers (opioids) are a serious problem! A substitute step for those who don’t practice this heinous aspect of self-destruction – try to experience at least 23 good laughs a day, more if possible.
2. Ten alcoholic drinks a week? That’s a lot! Alcohol is fattening, expensive, and often contains sugar. Heavy drinking often makes one look stupid. A substitute step: Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
3. Start exercising? Where have you been? On the moon? No one can be well without regular exercise and premature illness and death without it is guaranteed, unless you die first from an accident or something like that. Don’t enter maturity without it! An alternative step: increase your exercise regimen! Do more than the minimum daily requirements to avoid illness. Take the advice of the late Dr. George Sheehan: be a good animal and move often, with grace and power.
4. Less salt, less fat? You can do much better. Consider going vegan. Even a part-time vegan, or part-time vegan, also known as a vegetarian. Doing so will help reduce cruelty to animals and probably lose weight, should you need to lose weight.
5. More fresh vegetables? It depends. It depends on how much you are eating right now. A Substitute Step: Focus less on food and more on adding meaning and excitement to life. Feed your passions.
6. Avoid obesity? Of course. Good idea. Also be sure to avoid exposure to radiation, hungry reptiles, the Republican Party, and the bubonic plague while doing so. An alternate step: commit to achieving and maintaining a fit body through lifelong exercise and good eating habits.
7. Food supplements? Few need them. The Harvard Health Letter notes that if supplements really did work (doubtful for most), they would have risks of side effects and benefits. No drug is completely safe, even if taken as directed.
8. Fasten the seat belt? Do you need Dr. Cooper to tell you that? Go much further: make sure your car’s airbags are not under recall, drive less, and when driving, never, under any circumstances, text or talk on the phone in your hand. And drive defensively, assuming other drivers in and around you have mental problems and are not likely to drive sensibly.
9. Do you avoid exposure to the sun? What planet do you currently inhabit? If it’s Earth, this step will be challenging, to say the least. We all need a little starlight, but get yours earlier or later in the day whenever possible. Never sunbathe or use a tanning booth and cover up as much as possible.
10. Vaccines? Safe: Annual flu shots, vaccinations for children, and as needed for travel to hazardous environments. But, put a REAL wellness spin on this one: immunize yourself against worsening. That is, strive to avoid associating with negative people, design your environment to support growth and development, and do things that naturally make you feel positive and joyful.
11. Prenatal care? Good idea if you are pregnant. Dr. Cooper could have come up with a more applicable step. How about looking for a job that is challenging and meaningful, in an environment where you associate with positive coworkers? Also, strive to become very, very good at what you like to do with the idea that eventually someone or many people will want to make it up to you. Example: write a regular blog for SeekWellness! (I’m still waiting, you have to be patient).
12. Regular medical exams? Oh, humanity, the horror. There are too many medical tests in America. A substitute step: be more autonomous. Familiarize yourself with medical self-care – Know when you need to see a medical professional.
Dr. Cooper’s footsteps seem to assume that most Americans and others have horrible, self-destructive lifestyles and are unable or unwilling to think and act in ways that enhance the best chances of a good life. Hmmmm.
Now that I think about it, Dr. Cooper might be onto something. Most people could benefit from some of the 12 recommended steps to minimize poor health. However, to go beyond prevention and function exuberantly, a different set of steps or recommendations is required.
The reformed steps provided above emphasize the positive: the use of reason and the enjoyment of personal freedoms for an exuberant approach to life. Warning signs, such as those outlined in the latest AWR on Disease and Organ Interest Groups (DOIG), never provide the higher states of genuine vitality associated with optimal physical and mental well-being.