Dr. Tyler Cooper’s tenure at Cooper Aerobics is respectable, to say the least; he literally grew up there. His father, Kenneth H. Cooper, founded the Cooper Aerobics Center just days before Tyler’s birth in 1970. And in the four decades since, the younger Cooper watched his dad—who is also the founding father of the form of physical exercise known as aerobics—pioneer a multi-specialty practice that’s focused on prevention and backed by extensive research.
Cooper and I met at Cedars Woodfire Grill, the healthy on-site restaurant at the Cooper Fitness Center Dallas. He ordered the 800-calorie Asian Sweet and Spicy Bowl with chicken, and I enjoyed the alfredo-sauced Italian White Bowl, whose calorie count is significantly higher. Over lunch, Cooper told me that more than 250,000 people have visited the clinic in the last 45 years.
With all of those people came another opportunity: creating the Cooper Institute, a nonprofit entity that records data on all of those visitors. Since its inception, it has become the largest of its kind in the world, housing 1.8 million points of data. In addition to the Cooper Clinic and the Cooper Institute, the portfolio also includes fitness centers in Dallas and McKinney, which record exercise and personal health data that’s later correlated with customized fitness plans.
“The real strength of who we are is in our research, and that we lead the way in prevention,” Cooper says. “We see patients from all over the world, and about half of our patients come from outside the state of Texas. We bring a lot of people into Dallas who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily come here.”
It was this reality that brought the enterprise into yet another business venture: hotels. In the early ’80s, Cooper says there were so many people visiting the facilities that they built a hotel at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. At the time of our conversation, the Cooper Hotel was No. 2 on Trip Advisor for the entire city of Dallas. Booking a room there grants access to all of the Cooper facilities. Housekeeping even leaves Cooper-brand vitamins on your pillow before bed.
“We are much more about improving people’s lives and the quality of lives—not just a place to work out,” Cooper says, stressing that membership is much more engaging than at your average gym. “We set you up with a personal trainer, we do a fitness assessment, we do an evaluation, we let you go to the clinic and do a treadmill stress test. … It’s a real community, and our average member stays 10 years. The industry standard is six months to a year, but we have people who have been here since the opening.”
In the future, Cooper says he plans to develop new lines of business to further grow the fitness behemoth. But the core of Cooper’s mission remains to encourage health and fitness.
“One of the things I’m most excited about is, how do we continue to scale Cooper to impact somebody who could never come here?” he says. “Years ago that was books and speaking—and we still do those things—but we’ve developed multiple IT-related platforms and are putting some applications [in place] that use our science, our history, and our knowledge in a very user-friendly way.”
Still, his work won’t be finished after all of that. Cooper says he’s sometimes frustrated that Dallas doesn’t really recognize the scope and reach of the Cooper brand of companies, or the impact that it has had on the world.
“One of our biggest challenges we have as a business is that people drive by this, and they don’t know what it is,” Cooper says of the Dallas facilities. “It’s difficult to get the message across of the greater things that we do.”
Don’t be fooled, though. Cooper and his cohorts have and will continue to make their mark: The institute has published more than 700 studies, including a vital 1989 study that, for the first time, showed the beneficial effects of exercise, revealing that individuals who exercised regularly lived longer and decreased their risk of dying of any cause by 58 percent.
“We sit in a unique position to be able to be proactive in telling people how to make moderations to their health in order to improve their life,” Cooper says. “Our goal is to impact change.”