Perhaps busier than the busiest executive is the heart. Contracting 100,000 times a day and pumping 5 to 6 litres of blood each minute, it is undoubtedly the most important organ in the body. What is more, it pumps 20 times the normal volume when you exercise.

The heart is a muscular organ located in the chest, or thoracic cavity, diagonally behind the chest or breastbone. Shaped and sized similar to that of a clenched fist, this small organ performs tremendous work to maintain life process.

Exercise regularly

The heart like any other muscle works better and more efficiently when it is in shape. And there's no better way to keep it in shape than regular exercise. As you exercise, your heart rate (the number of times your heart beats per minute) increases and more blood is pumped to muscles all over the body. With regular exercise, the heart muscles enlarge and you will require less effort for doing ordinary things like walking up a flight of stairs or running for the bus. Cardiovascular exercise can reduce high blood pressure by 10-20 mmHg, and may also reduce the risk of hypertensive medications. Regular exercise can lower serum cholesterol, which is directly related to the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Exercise strengthens the heart

The heart is a muscle and just like other muscles, it works better and more efficiently when it is in shape. Exercise makes the heart stronger, helping it to pump more blood with each heartbeat. A well-conditioned heart can pump a large amount of blood with fewer heartbeats than a weak heart. During exercise blood is pumped at a much faster rate – as much as 20 times the normal volume of blood.

Exercise can prevent heart disease

Physical inactivity is a major cause of heart disease. Exercise can reduce excess body weight, reduce total cholesterol levels, increase the good (HDL) cholesterol, high blood pressure and also control diabetes.

Include cardiovascular exercises

Cardiovascular or aerobic exercises target the large muscles of the body and create an increased demand for oxygen. These exercises improve the heart, circulatory and pulmonary system. Examples are walking, cycling, jogging, running, hiking, swimming, stair climbing, in-line skating, dancing. Recommended duration is between 20 to 60 minutes of continuous activity at an intensity of 55 per cent to 90 per cent of maximum heart rate, 5 to 6 days a week.

Regular daily routine doesn't count as exercise

You may think that the daily grind at your workplace or home would suffice for your exercise needs. But that's far from true. Regular aerobic exercises when performed adequately condition the heart and lungs.

You don't need to train like a marathon runner to become physically active; just incorporate an exercise regime you are comfortable with in your daily routine. In the beginning you could start with 30 minutes of exercise, 3 to 5 times a week.

Did you know during exercise

* The oxygen extraction from the blood at the capillary level increases from 25 per cent at rest to 85 per cent during exercise.

* The respiration rate increases, resulting in an increase in minute ventilation from 6 litres per minute to 100 litres or more with exercise.

* The stroke volume increases, resulting in 50 per cent to 60 per cent more blood pumped per heartbeat.

Danger signs

* Watch out for these factors that increase chances of heart ailments.

* Smoking

* Obesity

* Stress

* Diabetes

* High Cholesterol

* High blood pressure

* Sedentary lifestyle

Nutrition Do's and Don'ts

* DON'T snack on buttery breads, puris, fried samosas, meduvada. Try to consume baked, steamed foods instead of fried foods.

* DO select fresh fruits, sprouts, salad vegetables and curd, tofu or low fat paneer.

* DON'T order heavy, malai-based gravies, deep fried vegetables, full cream milk preparations or curries and biryanis with fried nuts.

* DO choose vegetables without creamy, rich sauces or gravies, as they are usually loaded with fat. Limit intake of saturated fats such as butter.

* DO ask for whole grain and unrefined foods such as multi-grain bread in sandwiches or whole wheat rotis and unpolished rice.

You don't need a new year for a resolution to keep healthy.

Make your resolution right now and do it for your heart's sake.

The writer is a certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist.