(Posted Sept. 8, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Roger Reynolds, a London native, was an integral part of a research-based outreach that changed the way people around the world think about exercise. The primary message: Exercise is medicine.
Reynolds and two of his colleagues, Dr. Tom Collingwood and Dr. John Poteet, have co-authored a book–“Changing the World’s Exercise Habits: A History of Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s Fitness Missionaries”–about their experiences as employees of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas.
“We spent our lives in this career and think there are still people who don’t know who Dr. Cooper is or what he did… It was time for us to speak,” said Reynolds about why he and his colleagues, all of whom are now retired, decided to write the book.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper, often called the “Father of Aerobics,” developed an exercise program in the late 1960s based on a person’s ability to distribute and use oxygen over sustained exercise–in other words, the body’s “aerobic” means of producing energy. He created a points system that determined how much exercise a person needs to achieve a positive training effect.
He first applied the system as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force where he was tasked with researching the effects of exercise on the human body and developing a new physical fitness program for the Air Force. He then took what he found to civilian life, writing books and establishing the Cooper Aerobics Center. In the process, he sparked an exercise revolution.
The center is comprised of three parts–a clinic, a fitness center, and an institute for research and education. Cooper assembled a team to help spread the word about the positive impact an active lifestyle can have on a person’s health and well-being. As employees of the institute, Reynolds, Collingwood and Poteet helped to head up that effort.
“We called ourselves missionaries, with our mission being to teach the world that exercise is medicine,” Reynolds said during a recent phone interview from his home in Frisco, a suburb of Dallas. “We wanted people to know there is a better way to treat disease than to wait for disease–it’s wellness and prevention.”
Reynolds’s path to a career in wellness and fitness has its roots in his upbringing in London, something he shares in the book. He credits his mother, Dorothea, for being the rock of the family–a single mother raising four boys and instilling in them the virtues of love, faith, sacrifice, hard work and selflessness. Reynolds learned the concept of teamwork as part of a family “working together in order to survive.”
Reynolds and his brothers–Bob, Gary and Dick–were active youngsters, and all of them excelled in athletics. While a student at London High School, Reynolds made his mark in multiple sports and, upon graduating in 1959, accepted a scholarship to play football at Bowling Green State University. His success there landed him a National Football League (NFL) contract with the New York Giants. In total, he spent eight years in the NFL, playing for the Giants, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Cincinnati Bengals. Reynolds also served in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer. While on active duty, he served as the Ft. Benning sports and athletic officer and was a captain on the Ft. Benning Doughboy football team.
After his military service, Reynolds pursued a master’s degree in exercise science at Western Michigan University. It was during this time that he made his first direct connection with Cooper, requesting that Cooper serve as his master’s thesis adviser.
“Dr. Cooper’s work had been very personal and important to me, as I used his aerobic point system while training as a professional athlete. I was fascinated with the structure and simplicity of the program,” Reynolds writes in the book.
After spending time as a teacher and coach at the high school and college levels, Reynolds decided to pursue his passion for helping children and adults become more physically fit. He joined the staff of the National Fitness Motivation Organization which served as a springboard for his career. Initially, his focus was corporate fitness programs.
“I came up with the idea of going to corporations to show the benefits of exercise as a way to lower the risk of absenteeism, increase production, and boost morale,” he said.
Reynolds’s ideas took off in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. He sold his workplace fitness plan to business and industry leaders. He was asked to speak at conventions about his findings related to exercise and lifestyle changes. He joined forces with an expert in exercise physiology to develop a new business, Human Performance Systems, which enjoyed great success.
All the while, he was sharing his program results and research data with Cooper.
“The next and final step in my passionate fitness career occurred when I was asked to join the Cooper Aerobics Center staff,” Reynolds writes in the book. “All the aforementioned experiences provided a foundation, especially for the concept of teamwork, that I was able to bring to bear at the Cooper Aerobics Center.”
Reynolds spent over three decades working for the center. After retirement, he returned to education as a substitute teacher for grades K-12 at a private Christian school in Dallas. He is now in his seventh year of substitute teaching.
He continues to stay connected with the Cooper Aerobics Center, helping with projects on a voluntary basis at the institute and clinic. He and his wife, Annette, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They maintain a daily exercise routine and are the proud parents of four children and proud grandparents of six grandchildren.
“Changing the World’s Exercise Habits: A History of Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s Fitness Missionaries” can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble and is available for checkout at London Public Library.
Reynolds will be visiting London the weekend of Sept. 30-Oct. 1 to attend a multi-class high school reunion. He plans to introduce his book to his classmates at that time.
For more information, visit www.cooperaerobicscentermissionaries.com.