The 55-year-old captained Arsenal and England during his professional career, winning 66 caps for his country and appearing at four major tournaments.
As a result of his experiences with alcoholism and drug addiction, he later founded Sporting Chance, a charity to help sportspeople with mental health and addiction issues.
Ahead of the series launch on Friday, Adams recalled how coming close to death spurred him on to join the “silly” BBC One show.
He said: “I’ve been asked a few times. I had a mental breakdown when I was 49 and working too hard in China and I’ve just got time now.
“I’m not working too much, my calendar’s pretty empty for the next three months so I just thought yeah, go for it.
“After my heart procedure – I nearly died when I was 49 – my main artery was 99% closed and the stress of life.
“I’m a bit of a born worrier, my mum was a worrier so I just decided to take things a bit easier and get myself on a silly show.”
Adams said medical staff for the programme had given him a “thorough examination” and described the production as “another level”.
He added: “My physio was quite damning because I’ve got a new metal knee as well, she went ‘no knee slides’.
“It was ‘can’t do this, can’t do that’ – she kept saying ‘you’re not very good are you?’. I said ‘I am 55 now’.”
Adams was sentenced to four months in prison in 1990 for drink driving and said that experience would help him deal with any critical feedback on his dancing.
He joked: “I’m going to top you all because when I came out of prison they lobbed bottles at me and I had carrots thrown at me, so I’ve trumped it.”
Strictly Come Dancing launches on Friday September 23 at 7pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.