By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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It wasn’t until a coworker suffered a devastating stroke that Tracy McKibben took a long, hard look at the stressful, sedentary lifestyle he was leading as an IT database administrator in a Minneapolis suburb.

“I’m 5-foot-8 and at the time I weighed 198 pounds,” McKibben recalls, adding that, in addition to sharing a profession, he and his colleague also shared eating and exercise habits, which were, respectively, horrible and non-existent.

More often than not, for example, lunch was a large fast food sandwich, large fries and a large soda. Dinner could usually be described simply as “meat and potatoes” after which he’d collapse on the couch in a “food coma.”

“It got to the point where he just wasn’t moving much at all,” said Missy, his wife of 26 years.

Soon after the stroke that left his coworker severely disabled four years ago, McKibben attended a health fair at work. The nurse there told him his blood pressure was “a little high.” A follow-up visit to his doctor confirmed the problem and that’s when McKibben’s diligence came into play.

Tracy McKibben, at a weight of nearly 200 pounds.

Tracy McKibben, at a weight of nearly 200 pounds.

“I knew nothing about high blood pressure but I’m the kind of person, when I see a problem, I fix it,” he said. “I guess that’s why I’m good at my job.”

McKibben’s self-education involved reading everything he could find about hypertension and checking his blood pressure regularly with a home monitor he bought. He also started tracking every bite he ate with the MyFitnessPal app, every step he took with a Fitbit tracker and every pound he lost with a wireless “smart” scale.

He connected all this technology to his Facebook page so he’d be held accountable for every blood pressure reading, every meal eaten and every step and pound lost.

Here again, his diligence paid off.

“I turned the problem into a numbers game,” he said. “Since I started wearing the Fitbit [in January 2013], for example, I’ve walked 17 million steps. That’s the equivalent of 7,700 miles or 21,000 flights of stairs.”

McKibben’s No. 1 priority was to stay under his calorie target every day by focusing on lean proteins, good fats and low sodium.

During 2013 and the beginning of 2014 his efforts were showing results. He went from being unable to run for longer than a minute to running 10 miles without stopping. He discovered and fell in love with the paddle sport pickleball. And he built what he calls “a redneck treadmill desk” that lets him walk for hours while working from home.

Tracy McKibben, with his old pants, has lost more than 50 pounds.

Tracy McKibben, with his old pants, has lost more than 50 pounds.

“I was so proud of him,” said Missy. “It shows that, when he puts his mind to something, he can do almost anything.”

And then, two years ago, a second coworker had a stroke — this one fatal.

“It really brought home the realization that this is something that can happen to anyone at any time,” McKibben said. “It was my second wakeup call that these changes weren’t just a short-term thing.”

And that the changes he was making were for a lifetime.

At 48, his weight today varies between 143 and 145 pounds, his blood pressure is normal, he routinely logs 18,000 steps or more a day and he runs 5 to 10 miles several times a week.

“It takes discipline to do this,” he said. “And I guess this is where my stubbornness comes into play. I refuse to go back to where I was before.”

Photos courtesy of Tracy McKibben