The Power of Prevention

The Power of Prevention

I frequently say “it is cheaper and much more effective to prevent disease than it is to find a cure.” We now have
51 years of research to prove that statement. Let me give you some history about the importance of prevention.  

In 1895, Joseph Malins wrote a poem, “The Ambulance Down in the Valley.” The last stanza follows:


Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,

For the voice of true wisdom is calling.

“To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best

To prevent other people from falling.”

Better close up the source of temptation and crime

Than deliver from dungeon or galley;

Better put a strong fence ’round the top of the cliff

Than an ambulance down in the valley.


To my knowledge, this was the first mention of prevention, specifically preventive medicine, to keep people from being injured or from dying as a result of a fall. 

This reminds me of challenges I faced in establishing Cooper Clinic in 1970 in Dallas. I was taught in medical school in the 1950s that “preventive medicine is the Cinderella of the medical specialties because there is no profit in health—the profit is in disease.” Even when I was opening Cooper Clinic, my supportive colleagues in Dallas said there was no way to limit a medical practice to merely taking care of healthy people because people only see their physicians when sick.

The first several months, I saw few patients in my two-room office. Making matters worse, the local medical society asked me to go before its board of censors for doing something as dangerous as treadmill stress testing. These tests were not being performed in Dallas for fear a patient would die from exercising to maximum performance. 

I gave the board a fairly detailed presentation as to how my colleague, Dr. William Thornton, and I developed the instrumentation necessary to record a readable EKG on a vigorously exercising subject. This was a project we had been working on with NASA to be used with astronauts while in space. At that time, Dr. Thornton and I were both planning on becoming NASA scientist astronauts. (He achieved that goal; I decided not to pursue the program.) Finally being able to develop the technology to accurately read an electrocardiogram while exercising became valuable in the practice of cardiology, enabling us to diagnose severe heart disease that was being completely missed with only a resting electrocardiogram. 

In the last 51 years, we have conducted more than 300,000 maximal performance treadmill stress tests without issue. In 16% of those, the results were abnormal or equivocal, leading to immediate angioplasty and stents or coronary artery bypass surgery. Only 5% of the patients who had abnormal results had known heart issues. Of the 300,000 overall patients, 11% discovered they had heart disease for the first time while being evaluated at Cooper Clinic. It is well known that the heart is masterful in disguising its problems, and the most common first symptom of severe underlying heart disease is sudden death. 

The board of censors in Dallas found nothing objectionable in my presentation. In fact, the second physician in Dallas to start performing treadmill stress testing was indeed the chairman of the board of censors. Today, maximal performance treadmill stress testing is a vital diagnostic tool used by physicians worldwide, particularly in the field of cardiology, and is probably one reason deaths from cardiovascular disease have been decreasing.

Nonetheless, the road to success was still challenging. My concept of founding The Cooper Institute to collect preventive medicine data in 1970, six months prior to Cooper Clinic, was ahead of its time. Since then, we have published more than 600 papers in peer-reviewed journals, which enabled us to bridge the gap between faddism and scientific legitimacy in proving the value of exercise in the practice of medicine.  

Serving for 13 years in the U.S. military did not prepare me financially to develop this project. Had it not been for friends from the Tyler Corporation, including its late chairman Joe McKinney, I could not have funded the cost of developing Cooper Aerobics Center. They loaned the money to me without interest and no payment required for six months. 

In January 1981 a major fire destroyed the Cooper Fitness Center, which we rebuilt. I am reminded of what it says in James 5:16, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” As recommended in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, I did “pray without ceasing.” As a result, I was able to obtain funding to rebuild the fitness center within a year, and we have since expanded to a 30-acre center with nearly 500 employees, including 24 physicians.

I believe our success is due to:

  1. Divine intervention. 
  2. An outstanding staff (any CEO will be as successful as his staff makes him).
  3. We have proven it is cheaper and more effective to prevent disease than to find a cure.
  4. If people realize they have a need, and you provide a service and they receive the results they want, then they will make you successful.

We have been marvelously blessed, with our work recognized globally. I have a wonderful wife of 62 years, two wonderful children and five grandchildren. I am healthy and still working 40-50 hours per week—even at 91.  

We are told to glorify God in our body as well as our spirit (1 Corinthians 6:20). Primary care medicine is actually secondary care because primary care physicians see patients when they are sick, and we see our patients when they are well.

An Update on Vitamin D

From previous articles, you know I have emphasized the importance of vitamin supplementation for COVID-19, particularly in people of color. The topic has been controversial, even though our research has shown a clear relationship. A news article on a recent study from Israel, published in a peer-reviewed journal on Feb. 3, was titled “Israel study offers strongest proof yet of vitamin D’s power to fight COVID.” Another study from the same group (researchers from Bar-Ilan University, and the Galilee Medical Center) showed “pre-infection deficiency of vitamin D is associated with increased disease severity and mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients.” These well-done studies confirm what I’ve said since the beginning of the pandemic, so be sure you are taking at least 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. It might save your life! ©2022 Kenneth H. Cooper


Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version. 

Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., known worldwide as “the father of aerobics,” is the founder and chairman of Cooper Aerobics in Dallas and chairman emeritus of The Cooper Institute.

Photo: Courtesy of Cooper Clinic

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