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craig cooper, 53 author, athlete, serial entrepreneur, and advocate for the health of men

ageist EDITORS | september 6, 2016

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Craig Cooper is one of the busiest, smartest and fittest guys we know. Having spent years as a serial entrepreneur and investor, he is a self-proclaimed men’s fitness and wellness evangelist. Earlier this year he published one of our favorite books, Your New Prime, 30 Days to Better Sex, Eternal Strength and a Kick-Ass Life After 40

Amongst other things, he is also currently one of the star/lead investors in CNBC’s new show Adventure Capitalists. We caught up with him in Newport, California.

AGEIST:  So what did you do this morning? Did you go surfing or work out?

CRAIG: I ran for a few miles on the beach, and I've been surfing. My whole training over the last two months has been a little bit wacky. I had been training for two events but I initially injured my back doing squats. I recovered from that and then I started training for the SEALFIT 20X. It's an event run by Seal Commander Mark Divine out of La Jolla.  And, so I started training for what's called the ‘20X’, which is a 12-hour event of just complete destruction and rebuilding physically and mentally. But I think I signed up for it too late, as I only allowed myself 6 weeks, and I went into training too intensely and I really injured myself through intense repetitive exercising. Classic military stuff, you know, pull-ups, push-ups, burpees, all that. So I withdrew from that event. That was supposed to be three weeks ago, a couple days before my 53rd birthday. And, so I've really just been rebuilding myself since then.

AGEIST: Wow.

CRAIG: So, to make a long story short, What’d I do this morning? After the running and surfing, I came back, and did 200 press-ups and 200 pull-ups. That's basically a quiet day for me. I'm just really trying to get my body back into it.

AGEIST: How many sets to do 200 pull-ups?

CRAIG: I do sets of 10.

AGEIST: So you do 20 rounds?

CRAIG: Yes, I do 10 push-ups, and 10, and 10, and 10. I just keeping going back --  I do a lot of stuff like that.

AGEIST: Nice work. And a perfect segue to your book! It's really well researched -- I mean, I'm kind of a nerd with this stuff too. Why isn't there more stuff out there like your book?

CRAIG: You know, there's a few reasons. One is, just men’s health is just not a priority, right? Both at the federal stage, and at the individual level. Because guys being guys, they just don't care until something happens. They only react when they have a disease rather than being in a preventative mind frame. We also aren't getting any direction institutionally: we have no office of men’s health. Every year Congress is lobbied for one and every year they turn it down. We've had an Office of  Women's health for 20 years now. I mean, who knows that June is Men’s Health Month? So, you know, institutionally we're not made to think about men's health and as individuals we're not made to think about men's health.  Our only paradigm for men's health is biceps and abs -- because it's promoted by the general men’s health-media -- but most of it's not relevant for us.
I hope this book can be paradigm-shifting because I want it to be a voice for men's health. But getting through to men is really tough. It's easier to sell diet books or books about buttocks and thighs for women. Guys just don't absorb it or embrace it as much -- so that's the challenge and the opportunity.

AGEIST: Do you think that something's changing now, right now? I’m curious about your choice to write this book at this time... and at this time in your life.

CRAIG: We are definitely getting sicker. All the metabolic diseases are accelerating. A lot of diseases are really starting to affect men after the age of 45+. These disorders are becoming more relevant as they get older. Our testosterone levels are 20% lower than our fathers’ were at the same age 20-25 years ago. And the reason for it is either a sort of transgenerational epigenetics -- i.e. it's got to be passed on -- or it's lifestyle-based. But it shouldn’t be happening. So men are becoming more vulnerable and particularly in areas that affect their masculinity. So, I think, that conversation is opening up more and more because those are the things that ultimately drive us, right? Our sexual health, our physical health, and everything that sort of surrounds that.

AGEIST: The book also has so much common sense in it. A guy’s perspective of guys’ health.

CRAIG: Anything particular that you referenced in that?

AGEIST: I love the bit about picking your doctor by having him take his shirt off.

CRAIG: Yeah. Simple. We are living longer and we require a new approach to health. I'm rabid about this because I see so many “wellness professionals” through the industry. It just makes me angry that these people are at the forefront of our primary care business but they're not taking care of themselves.

But my core fundamental point is: don’t think of middle age as a time of complacency; it's a time of opportunity to strive forward in anything that you want to do.

AGEIST: Right? It’s like, if you think, if you're 55 and you think you're going to die in five years, who cares? But if I think, “I'm going to be around for another 50 years,” well let's get to it.

CRAIG: I think we're just waking up to the fact that there's life beyond 40. It can often feel like I’m on this exclusive journey, just me and a few of the people that I now train with. But, I think, everyone is just striving for something better, and wanting to perform better. It’s not everyone,  but there is a large group that I'm trying to reach out to, who just don't want to accept age as their destiny.

AGEIST: Who else is in this space that you think is also doing good work?

CRAIG: I think Mark Sisson does some great stuff, you know, with this whole Paleo movement. Now there’s a lot of evangelists out there, likeRich Roll with plant-based nutrition, Darin Olien my good friend who I train with up at Malibu. But there's no one I can honestly say who's got the sort of voice for us...you know, 40+ men’s health overall in terms of what I'm doing.

AGEIST: So I'm sensing there's a bit of a revolution happening here…

CRAIG: Yeah, I hope so, yeah. I think fitness has taken a huge transitional change. The big box gyms are declining in line with the growth of the outdoor fitness movement, where people see fitness as a true lifestyle. From where I sit, fitness regimes today compared to, like, 5-10 years ago have completely flipped upside down. And for our age, this variation is particularly important because balance, flexibility, mobility and strength become much more important than just having big biceps.

People are also more conscious from the food perspective. The organic and healthy-living movement has people realizing they can't trust the big manufacturers. But it is a relatively slow movement to materialize nationwide. I remember, going back 15 years when I used to do business in Minneapolis, and we were like freaks at the dinner parties. I spent a whole dinner one night telling people how to juice their market produce for the best benefits. We were freaks!

AGEIST: Who inspires you?

CRAIG:I love Tony Robbins, he is a super close friend and he's been very gracious and supportive of everything that I do. He is just the hardest working guy I know. He's been inspiring humans for 35 years, and he never slows down. His life is all about accelerating the peak performance of others and making a difference to individuals’ lives. I really like Tony, he is a magnificent human being.

AGEIST: So you have a lot of stuff going on, companies and associations that you founded or are involved in. What are you working on?

CRAIG: So most of my days [are] spent sort of building my men’s nutritional supplement business. It's all focused on 40+ men's health: prostate health, testosterone, sleep, heart health, joint health, with a company called PR Labs, Performance Research Labs. And I have a group of publishing websites -- I am actually raising capital, for the moment, just to sort of relaunch around prostate health to try to serve a kind of a digital platform for men around that sector. And also aging men's health disorders because there's really no sort of platform out there, outside of, you know, WebMD and Everyday Health and things like that.  I also spend a lot of time running the health and wellness studio at Lionsgate Entertainment at the moment, so I spend a few days a week up in Los Angeles with the team up there.

AGEIST: What do you do for them?

CRAIG: Lionsgate has an asset called BeFit. And BeFit is one of the largest digital fitness media businesses. It's a significant business, traditionally being DVD-based, but I have been brought in to basically restructure the whole business and transition it to take advantage of mobile, direct marketing and a bunch of other things. So that keeps me busy!

AGEIST: Wow.

CRAIG: But I am so passionate about serving the guys in our generation. It’s a time for thriving, not one of complacency. That’s the kind of principle message that I'm trying to get out there. I just don't think that we are served by the traditional media, television or any sort of health platform.

AGEIST: That’s how we feel!

CRAIG: But there is another point here. I talked recently at a fundraiser about how vulnerable we are, you know, from the point of view of our masculinity, and that's something that's often taken advantage of, particularly the drug companies. Looking at things like erectile dysfunction, the drug companies have created this whole industry around low testosterone, and they are marketing it as if it’s just, like, this disease as opposed to symptoms of a, you know, lifestyle disorder. There is a big chapter in my book devoted to this: the dangers of testosterone therapy as well as just quick-fix drugs. There are a number of things that we can do to improve our testosterone count, without resorting to drugs, that are just as effective but way better in the long run.

AGEIST: If you eat the right things and you behave the right way. I love the quote about AARP.

CRAIG: Oh, yeah, AARP, I hate those guys. I mean, seriously, they start sending out their cards at 49. I got one, like when Laird [Hamilton, legendary big wave surfer] got his. It's like, seriously, I want to put it in the shredder because, like, I'm just the wrong guy. I mean, seriously? The whole concept of retirement is kind of changing and they're trying to reinvent themselves: you know, “You don't know AARP,” blah, blah, blah. That's like, sign up now and get your, like, $16 little tote bag and your Denny's discount. They're just not even relevant.

 Craig, 7:30am, having just climbed Half Dome in Yosemite

 Craig, 7:30am, having just climbed Half Dome in Yosemite

AGEIST: I don't want to get too personal here, but you have an extraordinary drive...like your ambition and your scope of vision is really more than most. I'm wondering, was this something that you got from your family? Was your father like this? What?

CRAIG: No, my dad left when I was nine and I had a massive unhealthy childhood: you know, I was in a coma when I was nine for a month, and nearly lost my left leg when I was 11, I had heart surgery when I was 18. So much of my attention to my health is out of fear. So I’ve got an epigenetic disposition towards, you know, prostate cancer and type II diabetes. I'm surrounded by a lot of sickness because of the businesses --  I was with two guys yesterday who have just been through surgery for prostate cancer; neither of them ever regained sexual function, you know, so it's something I live in fear of.

AGEIST: Yes, right on. Tell me about, you talk a lot in the book about this idea of self-knowledge and using it to the limit.

CRAIG: Well, I think that was in the context of kind of calling BS on the 10,000 hour, you know, philosophy of Malcolm Gladwell. Right?

AGEIST: Yeah.  

CRAIG: Whereas becoming an expert in 10,000 hours... my point was, we didn't have 10,000 hours!

AGEIST: Right.

CRAIG: You know, life's short so focus on the things that you're good at and you're going to get enjoyment out of. Don't be overwhelmed and distressed that you're not going to become an expert guitar player starting at 55, but if you just want to pick up the guitar and have fun, then have at it. You know, more love, because if that's going to be your passion, go for it.

And if you want to accelerate the things that you’re already good at and become better at, that’s also awesome. I just didn't want my people of my generation to stress over it. I mean, I have X amount of time left, I have to do all these things or else I'm going to be a failure, because these are the things I had on my bucket list, the 25 that I'm going to spend the next 10 years trying to do, and it's going to drive me insane. That was really my point.

AGEIST:  Brilliant. Thanks Craig, I really enjoyed this and love your book. Great stuff in there.