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Good Question: Why Do Healthy People Suffer Heart Attacks?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Reality TV star Bob Harper suffered a heart attack two weeks ago at 51 years old.

The fitness trainer on the NBC show "The Biggest Loser" was considered a picture of excellent health.

So, why do seemingly-healthy people suffer heart attacks?

"Usually what I tell patients when they ask me, 'Why is it me, doc? why do I have this?' I say usually bad genes, bad habits or just bad luck," said Dr. Foaud Bachour, a cardiologist with Hennepin County Medical Center.

Harper said on Monday he fell into the bad genes category because his mother had a heart attack.

Rybak Heart Attack
R.T. Rybak recovering from his heart attack in 2014 (credit: R.T. Rybak)

Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak had a heart attack in 2014, and revealed his father also had heart trouble.

Family history for heart trouble includes any immediate family member under the age of 60 for women and 50 for men.

Dr. Bachour says there is no such things as a "heart attack gene," but that parents can pass on risk factors through their genetic makeup. That often has to do with cholesterol.

"It could be the good cholesterol that is very low or the bad cholesterol is very high," Dr. Bachour said.

Bad habits are a more common primary cause of heart attacks over genes. Exercise and good eating cannot reduce the risk down to zero, but it can help reduce the chances of heart trouble by 30 to 40 percent.

Dr. Bachour says Harper's good health contributed to his ability to survive a serious health attack, and this should be a wake-up call to people about the importance of exercise.

"It definitely conditioned his heart," he said. "He had a very conditioned heart that can handle the stress of the attack."

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