Joe Montana on heart disease: 'Changing a lifestyle was tough at first'

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When Joe Montana was diagnosed with two major risk factors for heart disease over 20 years ago, he lived up to his “Comeback Kid” nickname. Though he had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, he didn’t let the disease defeat him and he and his wife have now teamed up with Amgen for their “Break Away from Heart Disease” campaign.

Heart disease runs on both sides of the Montana family— the Hall of Fame quarterback’s mother had heart disease and two of his uncles suffered heart attacks. Jennifer, his wife, lost her father to a major heart attack at age 60.

“These days, there is no reason not to understand your heart history in your family and be aware at a young age— it’s great preventive health,” Joe, 59, told

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing over 375,000 Americans a year.

“We thought it was really important to get the knowledge to our children, to educate them that they [have] high risk factors and they have to start looking towards the future and forming some good habits right now to help them,” Jennifer told

According to some experts, regular exercise and a healthy diet is the best medicine to combat heart disease. Joe admitted that after he retired in 1995— the same year of his diagnosis— he took a break from exercising but continued to eat some of his favorite junk foods, like full bags of potato chips.

“I loved the grease. I loved the salt. I loved the red meat— I liked all that stuff, so changing a lifestyle was tough at first, but then you start getting used to the [healthy] things-- especially with Jennifer, she made it a lot easier because she eats a lot more healthier than I did and even still do,” Joe said.

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Staying physically active can also decrease your risk of developing high blood pressure. To get back on track, Joe decided to take the salt shaker off the dinner table and start exercising.

“Now I do low-impact stuff like stationary bikes, things that I can get 30 minutes or more a day in of and a little light lifting,” he said.

The national campaign, which also includes partnerships with the AHA and Schwinn, encourages families to get active by participating in the #HeartHealthTour, a series of nationwide cycling-oriented events. For those who aren’t able to join an event, they can virtually participate by posting a photo on the website and logging their cycling miles. Each time a photo is submitted, Amgen will donate $1 to the AHA.

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