Joe Montana used to head for McDonald's and routinely order two Quarter Pounders with cheese. Whenever his wife's fried chicken permeated the house, Montana reached for the salt even before tasting the food. At cookouts, the biggest steak usually landed on his plate.
"Being of Italian descent, food is important," Montana said. "And food is always better if there's more, right?"
Since 2002, when Montana joined an estimated 72 million people with high blood pressure, the only fast food is Taco Bell, salt has been eliminated from his diet and the steaks have become a lot smaller.
"I just don't eat as much," he said on Thursday. "It seems to be working."
The four-time Super Bowl champion was in town to promote blood pressure awareness and a free book, "Joe Montana's Family Playbook for Managing High Blood Pressure." Montana and Dr. James M. Rippe, a Harvard trained cardiologist, have been traveling the country as part of a high blood pressure education program called BP Success Zone, and they spoke with Independent Health employees on Thursday.
"Getting your blood pressure under control is the easiest part, trying to stay there the rest of your life is the hard part," Montana said. "It's a struggle when you try and do the right things."
Montana first learned he had the disease during an annual physical after his wife, Jennifer, suggested routine checkups following his retirement in 1994. His blood pressure was over 14 0/9 0, well above 12 0/8 0 that is considered normal.
"I was shocked to hear that I had it and was as surprised as anyone," said Montana, who turns 51 in June. "Even when I first found out I didn't know the seriousness of the situation until I was diagnosed with it. I didn't know what the consequences were for high blood pressure. I said, 'Well, I can't be too bad because I don't feel sick.' "
Now Montana tries to exercise every day although it's more difficult when he's on the road. He keeps meticulous records of his blood pressure which is now under 12 0/8 0.
"With my bad knee, I've been sentenced to the stationary bike," he said. "I'm about ready to give up on it because I just had a brace made for my knee so before my boys get out of the house I'm going to see how much terror I can cause on the basketball court. I'm getting ready to up the ante for my workouts."
It takes discipline to do what Montana does, to stay healthy in surroundings full of enticements. It's the same kind of discipline that made him into one of the best to ever play the game. The kind of discipline that will keep him alive.
"We have the means to lower heart attack, heart disease and stroke but people are so afraid to say, 'I have something wrong with me,' " he said. "This is something that is serious and needs to be taken seriously."