There is no respite for the heart as it has to work 24x7. But there are ways in which you can keep it beating for a long long time…

Around 21 days after a baby is conceived, his heart begins beating and keeps at it as long as he is alive. From 24 weeks onwards the heart is heard through a stethoscope. When that tiny being is born, its heart beats 130 times a minute. As his or her body grows, the heart rate lessens till it reaches a mature rate of 70 beats per minute. Each day this organ pumps 8,000 gallons of blood. Asleep or awake, the heart has no respite. Its job is 24/7. And the heart does it happily, most often than not. Keeping it healthy is your job.

Even a couple of decades ago, till the idiot box and Internet became a rage, children engaged in more outdoor activities than they do today. Slowly, as more and more conveniences invade our lives, we do less and less. The average age for an Indian heart to protest is 50, and our country leads as the Heart Disease Capital of the world with over 100 million people suffering from heart ailments. That age of 50 is coming down as more and more hearts succumb to stress. Attacks come from different directions: fast foods, late working hours, lack of exercise, stress from climbing the ladder in pursuit of material wealth and obesity. In the Western world, though, hearts endure and the average protest age is 65, 15 years more than what it is in our country.

Earlier, men were the major victims of heart disease. The ratio was one woman for every five men. Today, it's become one woman for every three men. Changed lifestyles are the obvious reason as more and more women are getting into careers, and are taking on a lot more than they did earlier. Besides, they have the added responsibilities of running homes and raising families.

Loving your heart helps. Start off with some physical activity. It goes a long way in keeping that heart healthy. If you are the super busy sort, and making money is your priority, with your health following a poor second, well, change it. Of what good is all that money when all of it gets spent on keeping you alive?

Exercise is good before the heart disease sets in. And if it already has, all is not lost. One could prevent further damage by doing the following:

Follow a healthy diet. If you are eating out, avoid foods that are deep fried. Do not go for something ‘smothered' it means high caloric content. The Chef's Special Sauce is a straight route to artery clogging. Instead go for the ‘grilled', ‘poached', ‘steamed' or ‘organic' options on the menu.

Consult a good nutritionist. High fat content foods will have to leave, while fresh foods and salt control will be on the agenda.

Do not exercise when it is too hot or too cold. An even temperature gym environment will do nicely.

Pace your exercise well with several short rest periods in between.

Drink water even before you feel thirsty. This will make sure your body is well hydrated.

Monitor heart rate closely and do not use the incline option on the treadmill.

Five days a week for an hour are best. In case weight loss is the goal, you need to work out for at least 30 minutes to see results

Bringing a healthy balance of mind and body into your life will keep your heart beating happily for many more years to come.

As told to Ameeta Agnihotri.

Ajit Shetty is Fitness Expert and Managing Director, Score Clubs, Chennai.

Breathing regimen

The Anulom Vilom or the 2-8-4 breathing from yoga has proved to be very beneficial for the heart. Here's how:

Sit comfortably. If you can, sit cross legged on the floor or bed. If not, sit on a chair.

Keep your back straight.

Make a victory sign.

Turn it around so that the thumb and fingers become like a tong.

Inhale from thumb side to a count of 2.

Hold to a count of 8.

Exhale from the fingers side to a count of 4.

Inhale from the fingers side to a count of 2, hold to a count of 8, exhale from thumb side to a count of 4.

Do it for two minutes to begin with, or for as long as you are comfortable. Soon, you will be able to do it for ten to fifteen minutes. This breathing will help you breathe deeper, enhancing lung capacity.

Anulom Vilom is good in many ways. It helps focus the mind, controls snoring, clears the sinuses, brings high blood pressure into control, de-stresses and helps the digestive process in your body. Many people have found themselves cured of insomnia, even depression.

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