In nearly 40 years of practicing cardiology, I've heard some pretty extraordinary excuses for not exercising, losing weight, taking medications, or practicing other heart-healthy habits. Although the reasons are often couched in some rather creative language, I've become adept at cutting through the veils of self-deception and steering my patients onto a more healthful path. Here are the five most common excuses I hear in my practice and how I typically respond:

There's nothing I can do to lose weight. In my experience, this is true for only 10 to 15% of people. These are the "fat and fit" who truly are limited by genetics. But for the majority of overweight Americans, significant weight loss is possible. Here's the test: If you've lost weight before, even short-term, you can do it again and keep it off. The key to success is thinking of your new eating plan as a permanent lifestyle change rather than a temporary diet.

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I eat out a lot. I have an overweight, diabetic friend who's a gourmand—he likes to dine out at fancy restaurants almost every night of the week. He recently broke his leg and had to stay home for 6 weeks. Just by cooking for himself, he lost 25 pounds and reversed his diabetes. When you eat in restaurants, you forfeit control of ingredients as well as portion size. Unfortunately, my friend is back to eating out again. I tell him that if his health deteriorates, I'm breaking the other leg.

I don't have time to exercise.
I used this one a lot myself until I discovered interval training, a technique used by elite athletes that can work for anyone. It has helped me reduce my elliptical trainer workout from 45 to 20 minutes while actually increasing the benefits. Here's what I do:

3-minute warm-up
Ten 60-second intervals (alternating 30 seconds fast pace with 30 seconds normal pace)
Eight 30-second intervals (alternating 15 seconds at an even faster pace with 15 seconds normal pace)
3-minute cool-down

Add nature's heart healers to your diet to reduce your disease risks.

Whatever your activity (walking, treadmill, elliptical machine, biking), try doing intervals. They strengthen your heart and burn more calories and fat than steady-state exercises, and they take less time. A bonus is that this kind of intense activity is good for brain health.

I don't want to take prescription drugs.
Patients often ask for natural alternatives when prescribed medication—particularly statins, which I believe are heart savers. But many "natural" supplements either are chemically derived or contain chemicals themselves. Plus, there's less quality assurance in the manufacturing of supplements than there is with prescription medications. I've been prescribing statins for 20 years, and their safety record has been consistently impressive. Why experiment with something you saw advertised in a magazine or read about while surfing the Internet? Trust your doctor.

I'm too old to change.
Whenever I hear this excuse, I say, "Look around. Why are there so many 70-, 80-, and even 90-year-olds who look and feel so great?" The answer is simple: Because they exercise regularly, eat well, and follow their doctor's advice. They're living proof that simple changes are tremendously and instantly effective.

And it's never too late to start.

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Gallery: When your body knows best