The Cooper Wellness Program in Dallas is like behavior modification boot camp. It’s a condensed encyclopedia of all things good for you. Last year, I spent six days focused on health, nutrition, and fitness at the tree-shaded, 30-acre campus established by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the man who introduced the aerobics concept―and launched a fitness revolution―in America in 1968.
Each 4-, 6-, or 13-day program is chock-full of workshops, group exercise, cooking classes, and personal training sessions. I opted for the 6-day session, and at week’s end, I had a 2-inch binder filled with advice and recipes. I had a memorable experience. I had a wealth of knowledge. And I had a daunting task: Share these riches in one story.
2 of 10Van Chaplin
A for Attitude
You may not be able to spend a week focused solely on your health, but you can begin the journey with small steps. “Eventually you will have a new version of normal,” says Connie Tyne, executive director of the Cooper Wellness Program.
Here are 10 steps―culled from six days, multiple experts, and a three-ring binder―to get you on track to a new normal.
3 of 10Van Chaplin
1. Change Your Mind
The Cooper program spends a lot of time excuse-busting. Get over all those preconceived notions you have about yourself. Write down every reason you have not to work out or eat healthfully. Then consider a solution for each problem. Give your body and mind the same consideration you give your automobile. Your workouts maintain the most important vehicle you will ever own. How far this body takes you is largely based on your choices. “Don’t die of something stupid,” Dr. Cooper says. “You are beautifully and wonderfully made.”
4 of 10Van Chaplin
2. Evaluate Yourself
The Wellness Program begins with a physical evaluation, which includes a mile-long walk, push-ups, crunches, and body fat percentage and flexibility assessments. This can be eye-opening. Before you kick-start your new lifestyle, find out where you stand so you can set realistic fitness goals. Many fitness facilities offer assessments for nonmembers for a fee. Most people, especially women, tend to judge themselves based on what the scale reads. This is a mistake! Get a true picture beyond mere numbers.
5 of 10Van Chaplin
3. Eat Breakfast
You already know you need to eat healthfully all day. This can seem like a daunting task. So begin with a healthful breakfast. Registered dietitian Kathy Duran-Thal emphasizes that food is fuel. Start your day by providing your body with what it needs to get going. Include protein. If your mornings feel rushed―and whose don’t?―Kathy suggests setting out the items you need for breakfast the night before.
4. Get up and move.
You don’t have to jump into daily Olympic training sessions. Begin with reasonable goals. If exercise isn’t already a part of your life, the most important thing is to move. “Avoid inactivity. Notice I didn’t say exercise. Try to get a collective 30 minutes―break it up if you need to―of activity in every day,” Dr. Cooper says.
6 of 10Van Chaplin
5. Change Your Shoes
If you’re like me, you’re wearing the wrong size of athletic shoes. On my last day at the program, Dallas podiatrist Allan Sherman checked my shoes and broke the news. “You should have about a thumb’s distance between your toe and the end of the shoe,” Dr. Sherman says. Who knew? I always thought blisters were just part of exercise. Shop for new shoes at the end of the day when feet are swollen, Dr. Sherman recommends. For optimum comfort, visit a shoe store dedicated to athletic shoes to find out if you need a neutral, stability, or motion-control shoe. (Because of my low arch, I need a stability shoe.) I’m trying to get over the fact that now I must buy tennis shoes in double-digit sizes that make me feel like Shaquille O’Neal.
7 of 10Van Chaplin
6. Explore Your Options
Don’t let anyone tell you what type of exercise you should do.
If you hate running―and I truly hate running―don’t force yourself to do it. I prefer power walking instead. If you think yoga is slow and boring, try ashtanga or power yoga. Try out different forms of exercise. Explore activities such as salsa dancing that are both fun and beneficial.
7. Be consistent.
You will only see results if you work out regularly and eat mindfully every day. You can’t take a four-day break and expect to see results that week. Exercise and eating right must become the norm, while indulgences and lazy days should be occasional treats. The good news is you will soon love the way exercise and good nutrition make you feel.
8 of 10Van Chaplin
8. Update Your Routine
Stick with a workout routine for four weeks, and you will see a difference, says Chad Krisher, a personal trainer at Cooper Fitness Center. Then it’s time to mix things up. It can be as simple as lifting slightly heavier weights during your strength training routine or adding a yoga or Pilates class. Continue to challenge yourself every four weeks so you won’t hit a plateau. Plus you’ll avoid the boredom that can come with doing the same routine every time you work out. Chad suggests this budget-friendly idea: Meet with a trainer to help you set up a routine; then meet only once a month so the trainer can help you add something new or adjust your workout.
9 of 10Van Chaplin
9. Enlist Help
Recruit friends and family in your lifestyle change. Ask your spouse to join you on evening walks, or go to a yoga class with a friend. Let the people around you know that you are trying to change your life and you need their encouragement and support.
Rick Salewske lost 300 pounds with the help of the experts at Cooper. He often speaks about what motivated him to begin his weight-loss journey and what keeps him going.
Not with food. Let me repeat that: Not. With. Food. Get a manicure or a massage. (My week ended with a relaxing massage at the onsite Cooper Spa.) Buy yourself a new outfit or snazzy tennis shoes. If you’re like me, you might find you’re rewarding yourself with things that encourage you to work out more, such as a new exercise DVD, cute yoga pants, or a bright pink stability ball. I know, it seems crazy, but it feels so right.