Kurt Warner was in the middle of his professional football career when a routine annual physical revealed some unsettling results.

The Super Bowl winner and two-time NFL MVP had high cholesterol.

“It was a shock,” Kurt Warner said, adding that he believed cholesterol was based only on diet and exercise.

Warner, along with his wife Brenda, is sharing his story to raise awareness about the risks of high cholesterol. He wants people to work with their doctors to lower the risks of heart disease.

“The thing about cholesterol is that it can be a silent killer,” he said. “You can look great and be in great shape and not realize until it’s too late that your cholesterol is high.”

About 31 percent of U.S. adults have LDL, or “bad” cholesterol in the higher ranges, but less than half of people who qualify for treatment receive it.  New guidelines recommend that treatment be guided by overall risk scores, rather than LDL numbers.

As a professional athlete, Warner worked out regularly, but didn’t worry too much about his diet. After consulting with his doctor a decade ago, he cut back on fried foods and worked to get more vegetables into his diet. He hoped those changes  would help to reduce his cholesterol.

“Every year, regardless of changes I’d make, the number was still high,” Warner said.

As he neared retirement from his NFL career, Warner worked with his doctor to find a cholesterol-lowering medication that could help along with a healthy diet and exercise.

It wasn’t an instant success. Warner, who is now 43, was prescribed three statins before landing on one that metabolized differently with a reduced risk for interactions with other medications, supplements and foods.

“It really came down to staying aware of my medical condition, maintaining constant contact with my doctor and sticking to my game plan,” he said.

Working with his doctor Warner learned that cholesterol can also be hereditary.

He remembers his father, Gene Warner, struggling with high cholesterol, but had always assumed it was due to lifestyle and would try to encourage him to exercise and eat better.

“Once I was diagnosed, I learned it may not just have been lifestyle for my dad,” Warner said.

His diagnosis and the realization that a family history could elevate the risks of high cholesterol for his children, drove changes for the entire Warner family.

Growing up in Iowa, the Warners said conversations about healthy foods didn’t make it to dinner table, which often featured unhealthy casseroles.

“All you worried about was finishing your plate,” said Brenda Warner, who added that she works to instill healthier habits for the family’s seven children, ages 8 to 25. She sneaks chopped spinach into spaghetti sauce, makes over family favorites, tests new healthy recipes each week and plays on her family’s competitive spirit.

“Last night we all had to pick out a vegetable and find out who could eat it the fastest,” she said.

She also looks for ways to make physical activity fun.

“Sometimes we’ll try to keep them busy with a fun obstacle course,” she said. “They’re moving their bodies and they don’t even realize it’s exercise.”

Even with healthy changes, the Warners still indulge in occasional treats.

“Kurt still makes a lot of ice cream runs,” Brenda Warner divulged.

“Yeah, but not as often,” he added.

The Warners are bringing attention to the risks of high cholesterol and the importance of heart health with FirstandGoalHeartHealth.com, a website sponsored by Kowa Pharmaceuticals America Inc. Kurt Warner is a paid spokesman for the company.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in your country, so you want to take control of this early and not just think, ‘I’m young and I exercise, so I don’t have to worry,’” Warner said. “Talk to you doctor, get your annual physical and figure out what the best game plan is for you.”

 

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