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Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., now in his 86th year, is the most famous living guru in the fitness field. He’s the father of the aerobics movement whose books, medical clinic, research and lectures have probably converted a million or more couch potatoes into regular exercisers. Cooper’s first book, entitled Aerobics, reminds some of the wisdom of Schopenhauer, who noted that all reforms have three stages: first they are ignored, then vigorously opposed and finally accepted as self-evident.
I know Dr. Cooper. He and his wife Millie are widely admired. Only a crank would niggle, cavil, nitpick or get snitty about his work. Really – who would dare put forward a negative assessment about any recommendations from this storied exercise guru? Well, I would.
I take exception to Cooper’s much-publicized Twelve Steps to Good health. Cooper’s 12 Steps should not to be confused with the better known 12 Steps of Alcohol Anonymous, the 12 Steps to Boost Your health for Life by Joshua Rosenthal or the book, Twelve Steps to Psychological Good health and Serenity by Gabriel M. A. Segal. I’m not enamored with these 12 Step approaches, either, but this critique is only about Dr. Cooper’s distinctive 12 step recommendations.
Before I describe my concerns, have a look at Cooper’s Twelve Steps to Good health.
1. Stop using all tobacco and drugs.
2. Limit alcohol to no more than 10 drinks per week.
3. Start exercising.
5. Eat more fresh vegetables.
6. Avoid obesity.
7. Take proper Diet supplements, including calcium and antioxidant vitamins C, E and A.
8. Faster your seat belt.
9. Avoid exposure to the sun.
10. Get immunization shots.
11. Get adequate prenatal care.
12. Get regular medical examinations.
The steps are boilerplate and obvious (avoiding smoking and obesity), overly general (how much more of the good things, how much less of the bad?), arguable (taking supplements) and, in one case, inapplicable to half the population (prenatal care)
In short, they don’t amount to much. From such a vaunted fitness expert, I think we should expect 12 innovative, specific exercise tips we don’t already know, all reasonably specific.
Of course, better would be 12 REAL wellness tips.
Cooper’s Steps Reconsidered
Here is a critique of each step.
1. Stop using tobacco and drugs? Are you kidding? That’s impossible for most people because they would not be caught dead or alive with tobacco products. (As for drugs, well, that depends on the drugs.) Anyway, most people don’t smoke or misuse drugs, though pain relief (opioid) drugs are a serious problem! A substitute step for those not practicing this egregious aspect of self-destruction: Try experiencing at least 23 good laughs daily, more if possible.
2. Ten alcoholic drinks a week? That’s too many! Alcohol is fattening, expensive and often contains sugar. Excessive drinking often causes one to appear stupid. A substitute step: Drink at least eight glasses of water daily.
3. Start exercising? Where have you been? On the moon? Nobody can be well without regular exercise and premature illness and death without it is guaranteed, unless you die first from an accident or something. Do not go into middle age without it! A substitute step: Increase your exercise regimen! Do more than the minimum daily requirements for disease avoidance. Follow 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 becoming a vegan. Even a half-ass vegan, or part-time vegan, AKA vegetarian. Doing so will contribute to less animal cruelty and probably weight loss, should you need to lose weight.
5. More fresh vegetables? Depends. Depends on how much you’re eating now. A substitute step: Put less focus on food and more on adding meaning and excitement to life. Nurture your passions.
6. Avoid obesity? Of course. Good idea. Be sure to also avoid exposure to radiation, hungry reptiles, the Republican Party and bubonic plague, while you’re at it. A substitute step: Commit to achieving and maintaining a fit body through life-long exercise and sound eating habits.
7. Food supplements? Few need them. The Harvard health Letter notes that if supplements actually worked (doubtful for most), they would have side effect risks as well as benefits. No drug is entirely safe, even if taken as directed.
8. Fasten seat belt? You need Dr. Cooper to tell you that? Go much further: make sure your car’s air bags are not under recall, do less motoring and, when you do drive, never ever under any circumstances text or talk into a phone that you’re holding. And drive defensively, assuming other drivers in and around you are mentally challenged and not likely to drive sensibly.
9. Avoid sun exposure? What planet are you currently inhabiting? If Earth, this step will be challenging, to say the least. We all need a bit of star light but get yours earlier or later in the day, whenever possible. Never sunbathe or use a tanning booth and cover up as much as practical.
10. Immunizations? Sure – annual flu shots, vaccinations for children and, as required, for travel to hazardous environments. But, put a REAL wellness spin on this one – immunize yourself against worseness. That is, make efforts to avoid associating with negative people, design your environment to support growth and development and do things that naturally make you feel positive and cheerful.
11. Prenatal care? Good idea if you’re pregnant. A more widely applicable step might have occurred to Dr. Cooper. How about seek work that’s challenging and meaningful, in an environment where you associate with positive coworkers. Also, work at becoming very, very good at what you love to do with the idea that, eventually, someone or many people might want to compensate you for it. Example: writing a regular blog for SeekWellness! (I’m still waiting – you have to be patient.)
12. Regular medical exams? Oh, the humanity, the horror. There is too much medical testing in America. A substitute step: Be more self-reliant. Be familiar with medical self-care – recognize when you need to see a medical professional.
Dr. Cooper’s steps seem to assume most Americans and others have god-awful, self-destructive lifestyles and are unable or unwilling to think and act in ways that enhance best possibilities for a good life. Hmmmm.
Come to think of it, Dr. Cooper might be on to something. Most people could benefit from some of his recommended 12-steps for minimizing ill health. However, in order to go beyond prevention to functioning in exuberant ways, 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 liberties for an exuberant approach to life. Warning signs, such as described in the last AWR dealing with disease and organ interest groups (DOIGs), never provide the higher states of genuine aliveness associated with optimal mental and physical wellbeing.