Why Some Professional Athletes Die Young: A Cardiologist Explains

I had the pleasure of attending mindbodygreen's revitalize a few weeks ago, and a highlight was hanging with John Salley, the 7-foot NBA great who owns four championship rings. I met John years ago when he spoke at the annual VegFest; he was widely successful in part to his ability to draw huge crowds.

At revitalize, John spoke about his path to being a plant-strong NBA player and his now fully committed plant-pure life. He combines deep knowledge and experience with humor and a commanding presence to make a strong case for shunning animal products for a purer life.

While John’s transformation to health, vitality and optimal body weight might be of be of interest to most, it stands in stark contrast to the recent deaths from heart disease of three former NBA players — Anthony Mason, Christian Welp, and Jack Haley — within three weeks of each other. They were all about the same age as John.

Why are the deaths of these former NBA players shocking? They were all young, all died suddenly of heart attacks without warning, and all had spent a significant portion of their lives in athletics. While it's not my place to diagnose from afar, and I was not privy to their medical records, I am hoping that these tragedies can shed light on the fact that exercise alone is no guarantee of a long and healthy life.

My passion is to teach as many as possible that over 80% of heart attacks are preventable using simple and affordable lifestyle measures, and these deaths are worthy of mention as a platform to prevent a million heart attacks in the next two years.

My experience is that many athletes feel that with all the exercise they get, they can eat whatever they want. The truth is that it takes a whole lifestyle to preserve heart health, and practicing athletics alone can sadly end in tragedy. Whole foods — with a strong plant emphasis, weight management, stress reduction, quality sleep of about seven hours, and avoidance of smoking and excess alcohol -- are all important factors for heart health.

Heart disease is silent killer that seemingly strikes less fear in the heart of the public compared to cancer, or even wrinkles! The good news is that it can be detected early using widely available and inexpensive technologies, like coronary artery calcium scans; it's preventable, and can even be reversed if already present.

My wish is that with warriors like John Salley preaching his health message, we can help prevent heart attacks, and succeed in reaching my goal of preventing a million heart attacks in the next two years.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

Joel Kahn, M.D.

Cardiologist & Best-Selling Author
Dr. Kahn is the founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity. He is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Michigan School of Medicine and is a professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is owner of GreenSpace Cafe in Ferndale, Michigan. His books, The Whole Heart Solution, Dead Execs Don't Get Bonuses, and Vegan Sex, all No. 1 best-sellers, are available for sale now. His public TV special, The Whole Heart Solution, is playing nationally now.
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Joel Kahn, M.D.

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