Judy Hinderliter takes care of friends by refusing to talk to them on the phone.
Instead, Hinderliter, a dietician and personal trainer at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Wellness Centre at Meadowmont, encourages them to join her for a brisk, heart-healthy walk.
That`s just one of the creative strategies for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system that Hinderliter and her husband, Alan, cardiologist at the UNC at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, share with their patients.
Despite advances in medical care, heart disease has remained the leading killer of Americans for the past 80 years.
Every year, about 650,000 Americans die from heart disease, a term that refers to problems such as heart arrhythmias, heart failure and coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart attacks.
Alan Hinderliter said mortality from heart disease has decreased in the past decade because of better treatments and lifestyle changes.
`People are less likely to smoke than they were 20 years ago,` he said. `They`re a little more likely to exercise.` But he cautioned that the rise in obesity and diabetes, important risk factors for heart disease, has cut into these gains.
Meanwhile, children exercise less than they did in previous generations, thanks to the prevalence of video games and cuts to physical education classes.
Exercise has a myriad of benefits to the heart. It strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system and can help people lose weight. Significantly, exercise can also improve mood.
The couple suggest turning social occasions into fitness time; scheduling exercise into your day, just as you do with other appointments; vary the type and intensity of exercise to avoid boredom.
Play games, such as tennis, racquetball or squash. Such games are "a way to keep it fun and interesting, but also a great workout,` Alan Hinderliter said.
If you can afford a personal trainer, get one. A professional can help you design an effective exercise program and show you how to avoid injuries.
If you can, try walking to work. `Instead of a 15-minute commute, make it a half-hour walk,` Alan Hinderliter said.
And don`t forget to eat a heart-healthy diet: whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy products, plenty of fruits and veggies, and few saturated fats.
For an average person, the caloric content of a tablespoon of butter requires a mile of walking to burn off, Judy Hinderliter said, according to an UNC release.
The bottom line on exercise? `The more the better, for the most part,` Alan Hinderliter said.