An extremely strong and powerful muscular organ, the heart is as small as our fist, can beat as many as 100,000 times a day and propel as much as 5 litres of blood in a minute via a complex and vast network of blood vessels that cover as many as 60,000 miles. The heart continually supplies oxygenated blood and enables organs such as the liver and kidneys to function. At the same time it supplies deoxygenated blood to the lungs for a fresh supply of oxygen.

Feel the pulse: Check your heart rate to see how healthy you are.

For instance, a sedentary person’s heart beats about 80-100 times per minute and an athlete’s, usually less than 50. Lance Armstrong is reported to have had just 30 beats per minute. In the case of a person leading a sedentary lifestyle, the additional heartbeats indicate that the heart is unfit. A sedentary person’s heart has to beat 30-50  times  more than that of a fit person to do the same job of pumping 5 litres of blood per minute. These additional beats can be exhausting for the heart. Severe exhaustion can reduce the efficiency of the pumping action and contribute to heart disease and ageing.

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How healthy is your heartbeat

It’s important to learn how to check your own resting heart rate (or pulse rate). To hear your heartbeat use three fingers—the index, middle and ring, of one hand—and gently press these fingers to the radial artery at the wrist under the thumb of the other, till you can feel the pulse. Be sure not to use the thumb of the hand with which you are checking the pulse, because it has its own pulse. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get your heart rate per minute. Do this first thing in the morning for three days in a row, work out the average and rate your fitness based on this table.

Resting heart rate/heart condition

50 or less, very fit (elite athletes)

50 to 70, fit

70 to 80, average

80 to 90, unfit

90 and above, very unfit

Note that a sudden drop or increase in the  heart rate or a feeble, irregular heartbeat suggests infection or illness and requires urgent medical attention.

Exercising regularly is one way to lower your heart rate and bring it into the fit zone. Regular aerobic exercises lower your heart rate because they improve the muscular strength and functioning of the heart chambers, right and left atria and right and left ventricles, and increase the amount of blood that can be pumped per heartbeat, which means that the 5 litres that need to be pumped per minute require fewer heartbeats. .

Also, the faster your heart rate recovers to the resting heart rate indicates a higher level of fitness. Your fitness professional could conduct the test for heart recovery rate once in three months and check that your fitness levels and heart health are improving.

Heart-healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits

High-fibre foods such as oats, beans, fruits, vegetables and ground flaxseeds prevent cholesterol build-up

Oily fish, nuts and seeds keep arteries flexible and support a healthy blood flow

Garlic helps lower blood cholesterol and hypertension

Cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks and deep-fried food can lead to a build-up of cholesterol

A combination of smoking, too much alcohol and salty savouries damages the walls of blood vessels and increases blood pressure.

Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.

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