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Ex-Football Great Stars in Safe Heart Campaign

Calvin Hill spreads word about dangers of heart failure

SATURDAY, Jan. 4, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- More than 20 years after retiring from a long and stellar pro football career, Calvin Hill is still serious about staying in shape.

If anything, the 55-year-old former Dallas Cowboys running back may be working even harder to keep fit and -- as much as humanly possible -- stave off illness. He gave up one passion, jogging, because of pain in his knees and hips from old football injuries. But he's acquired a new one, working out five or six days a week on an elliptical trainer.

Hill, who served on President Clinton's Council on Physical Fitness, also is diligent about watching his diet. And he's taking medication to keep his cholesterol down after it ballooned to 280.

His motivation for staying in shape goes beyond the fact that he once was a world-class athlete. He also doesn't want to fall victim to heart disease, such as the congestive heart failure that killed his 75-year-old father 20 years ago.

"I've been very, very sensitive to try to control as much as I can control to ensure that I don't fall victim to heart disease," he says.

Hill is also working to spread the word about heart disease. He is part of a national heart failure awareness campaign created by Spotlight Health and sponsored by Guidant Corp., a maker of cardiovascular medical products.

His involvement with the campaign dovetails with a recent study that shows that genetic variations can dramatically raise the risk of heart failure, particularly in black people.

Blacks who inherit two abnormal copies of one of two genes have a fivefold increased risk of developing heart failure. And blacks with two abnormal versions have 10 times the risk, according to the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study stressed the need for people prone to congestive heart failure to do what they can to reduce or eliminate risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.

They should also make dietary changes to reduce the amount of salt and fat consumed, and get regular exercise.

Almost 5 million Americans suffer from heart failure and 200,000 die from the disease each year.

A test that costs about $10 is available to screen people for the two abnormal genes, according to one of the study's researchers, Dr. Stephen Liggett of the University of Cincinnati.

Liggett, director of the university's division of pulmonary and critical care, says seeing a doctor is good advice, but it's not enough to determine how much risk people face for congestive heart failure.

"Predicting who is going to get it and who doesn't is not easy to do with standard clinical tests right now," Liggett says. "But this genetic test gives you a tenfold increase in risk, and that's pretty good. But I'd sure like to see advocacy pushed to getting another study done so we really know what to do with this information."

Hill says his commitment to spread the gospel of a healthy lifestyle to young and old alike is keener than ever, now that he's a recent grandfather. His son, National Basketball Association star Grant Hill, and his wife, Grammy-nominated recording artist Tamia, are the parents of a baby girl, Myla.

"She's only 11 months old, but I am conscious that 60 percent of young kids are overweight, and you think of their lifestyles and what they're eating," Hill says.

Hill, who works as a consultant to a variety of businesses, including the Dallas Cowboys, says those at risk of heart disease need "to get to a doctor and find out all the various things that should be considered."

"Increasingly, doctors are finding out more and more in terms of things they can look for to give a person a warning. And then (that person) can try to do the right thing, to the extent that they can control what they control," he says.

What To Do

For more on heart failure, try the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute or the Heart Failure Society of America.

Consumer News