Tim Cook Pivots to Fitness

Moments after a red-tailed hawk lands on an oak tree outside the Steve Jobs Theater, Tim Cook walks up with a smile. It’s a warm fall morning, and the raptor is just one of many birds in the sprawling landscape of restored native habitat that surrounds the massive ring-shaped second headquarters Apple opened in Cupertino in 2017. Having an office here, Cook tells me, “is like working in a national park.” He ticks off a couple of well-known stats: more than 80 percent of the 175-acre campus is greenspace; there are more than 7,000 trees. The design, says Cook, “brings the outside in and the inside out.” 

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Before the pandemic caused most of ­Apple Park’s 12,000 employees to work remotely, many of them held meetings in the building’s fruit-tree-filled central courtyard. “You would see people riding bikes from one meet­ing to another,” says Cook, who, along with roughly 15 percent of his workforce, still regularly goes into the office. “You would see people running. It’s a two-and-a-half-mile track around the place, so put in a couple of laps and you’ve got a good workout for the day.” Restrooms and coffee bars are spaced apart, he adds, encouraging employees to walk more. 

Apple Park may have been Steve Jobs’s utopian vision, but it was built for Tim Cook’s lifestyle. This is not a man with a closet full of black turtlenecks. The 60-year-old Apple CEO is both a nature nerd and a fitness obsessive. Standing before me in a snug-fitting navy polo shirt, skinny gray jeans, and white Nikes, he appears to be among that breed of tech titans who start their mornings with kettlebells and protein smoothies. He wants to talk about his love of actual national parks (he visits several a year), his need for exercise (“it’s the thing that keeps stress at bay”), and Apple’s company-wide health and wellness challenges (this month: mindfulness). 

“We all know intuitively, and now with research, that physical activity is a key part of longevity and quality of life,” Cook says. His own training time is sacrosanct, the one portion of his day when he’s unreachable. “I’m off-grid for that period,” he says. “And I am religious about doing that regardless of what’s going on at the time.”

No surprise that he pays close attention to the fitness data captured by his Apple Watch. “I want to know what I’m doing, not what I think I’m doing,” he says. “Because I can always convince myself that I’m doing more than I really am. So for me, it’s a motivator.”

A few weeks before we spoke, Apple introduced the Watch Series 6 with the slogan “The future of health is on your wrist.” Now, as we walk along a pathway winding between shrubs and dry grasses, Cook makes the case that the Watch has ushered in a new era of fitness tracking, and not just for dedicated athletes. He cites letters he’s received from users of the device claiming that it literally saved their lives by detecting early signs of heart problems. Then there’s the fact that tens of millions of people now wear a device that monitors key health metrics and allows them to anonymously share data with researchers, which many do. (Some 400,000 Watch users participated in one Stanford study.) This enables scientists, says Cook, to “democratize research by having much larger constituencies that are able to participate.

“I really believe,” he adds, “that if you zoom out to the future and then look back and ask, ‘What has Apple’s greatest contribution been?’ it will be in the health and wellness area.”

Outside Magazine: Health

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