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"I've been a driver all my life, first through the influence of my father, who required straight A's, and then in athletics when I was the 1949 Oklahoma state mile champion and made All-State in basketball that same year.
"I found my desire to succeed frustrated me in the military—it seemed that driving people are snuffed out or gotten rid of in the name of uniformity. I wanted to build an Aerobics Center for the Air Force, but the plan was blocked by my superiors. It never reached Air Force headquarters." In 1970, Cooper left the service and, at the urging of some corporation executives, began developing the center on an 8�-acre estate in Dallas. Counting himself, Cooper now has four full-time staff physicians at the clinic, 1,320 yards of Tartan jogging path, a 25-yard swimming pool, a weight room, steam and whirlpool baths in the activity center, an exotically equipped research facility across the street and 13 adjoining acres for expansion.
Of those who join the Activity Center (there are now 1,000 and a six-month waiting list just for the requisite examination) 65% renew their memberships. Since the rate at most health clubs is around 30%, Cooper's figure seems to show a rather profound altering of the patterns of men's lives. The Surgeon General's report on smoking and lung cancer a decade ago has had little effect on smoking levels. American eating habits have not changed appreciably since reports were published suggesting cholesterol was a factor in heart disease. If Cooper does prove exercise makes people heart-attack-proof, we might expect this finding, too, to sink beneath the tide of indifference. Yet Cooper seems to have licked the hard part. The enthusiasm of hardheaded men like Grant Fitts argues strongly that Cooper has made a remarkable advance, if not in pure research, then in moving the people.
Cooper's tripartite organization channels patients first through exhaustive physical examinations in the clinic, then into carefully prescribed exercise in the Activity Center and finally to participation in research. Each step is calculated to gently wean men away from old habits. The emphasis in the examinations is upon communicating a personal concern for the patient and educating him in the specifics of his case.
"Three out of every five patients I see have some kind of hypertension [high blood pressure]," says Dr. Randy Martin of the Aerobics Center staff. "Most forms are easily controlled with attention to diet, often just by cutting down on salt. No one has ever told these people one pickle has about as much salt as a man needs in a year."
Then there are the stress tests, usually the most revealing moments of an exam. For example, Martin is putting a portly Coors distributor from Wichita Falls—call him Ray—on the treadmill. After two minutes of long, swinging strides, Ray's pulse is 110 per minute. Karen Zuber, the technician who checks blood pressure and the ECG wiring, asks if Ray ever jogs.
"No, ma'am," he puffs.
"Take out the garbage regularly?"