Fitness guru brings facility, message to China

By Paul Welitzkin in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-07-28 12:02

Fitness guru brings facility, message to China

While at the opening of the fitness center in Nanjing that bears his name, Dr Ken Cooper recalled his ambitions as an 18-year-old attending a Baptist church in his native Oklahoma.

"I dedicated my life to becoming a medical missionary to China," he said in an interview. "I don't know why I did that."

Over the years, Cooper never did enter the seminary to become a missionary but has kept up his interest in the mainland. "The trip to open the center in Nanjing was my 10th to China in the last 30 years," he said.

The 86-year-old Cooper attended the grand opening of the Cooper Aerobics Health and Wellness Center in Nanjing in April. China's first Cooper center sits on 40 acres in a forest with lakes. It was originally built with the intention of becoming a hotel and conference center.

With $5 million from investors Dr Chanchai Ruayrungruang and Chinese billionaire John Chen, a building that housed tennis courts was turned into the Cooper center. It includes a four-story climbing column, indoor running track and aerobic training cardio equipment.

Cooper is considered a pioneer after the publication of his book Aerobics in 1968 helped to kick-start the American fitness movement. He opened the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas two years later. In Brazil, many refer to jogging as "coopering" for his role in devising a training strategy for Brazil's soccer team that won a World Cup in 1970.

He is going to the Chinese mainland to instruct the citizenry, business, educational establishment and the government on the importance of a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise. As the economy of China modernizes, some of its citizens have become more comfortable with a Western lifestyle, which can include poor dietary and activity habits.

"While China accounts for about 19 percent of the world's population, it had more than 30 percent of the adult diabetes cases in 2014," said Cooper. "Cardiac disease has increased more than nine-fold in a generation - far faster than the rest of the world."

Cooper's Nanjing center, one of five he hopes to open in China, will offer instruction for teachers, business executives and government officials on the value that exercise and a healthy lifestyle bring to the community - along with equipment and facilities for workouts.

Michael Zakkour, a vice-president of the China and global e-commerce platforms at consulting concern Tompkins International, noted that China's middle class - at 350 million - is the biggest in the world and is expected to reach 550 million in the next 10 years.

"The opportunity for fitness clubs is huge because the middle class is now focusing on spending on health, wellness and lifestyle. Any product or service that is put on the body, in the body, or contributes to the fitness of the body is experiencing exponential growth," he wrote in an email.

Zakkour said that for Cooper to succeed in China, he should "ensure that consumers are engaged through technology, have tiered offerings for membership and a slate of classes that run from traditional Western to (ones) mixed with elements of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine)".

About 15 million Chinese had gym memberships, and the fitness market reached 30 billion yuan ($4.35 billion) last year, according to iResearch.

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