Get to know your key exercise organ: The anatomy of the heart

Thursday, March 09, 2017. Author Geraldine Campbell

During exercise your heart rate and stroke volume increases to enable enough oxygen to reach your hard-working muscles. Your heart is the pump driving this response to exercise and it is important to understand what is actually happening inside your body to see how being active and healthy will benefit your heart and overall wellbeing!

The heart is the key organ within the cardiovascular system (cardio = heart and vascular = blood vessels) and it benefits enormously from physical activity. It constantly pumps and circulates approximately 5 - 7 litres of blood a minute to deliver nutrients, oxygen, and hormones throughout the body.. The heart is such a vital organ that it is even made up of its own specialised cells which can contract without nerve stimulation. This allows hearts to be transplanted from one person to another, and still function!

The cardiac cycle

Oxygenating the blood

1) Blood with a low level of oxygen enters the right side of your heart through two main veins (the superior and inferior vena cava) into one of the two types of chambers of the heart – the atrium

2) The filling of the atrium increases the pressure causing blood to flow through a three-flapped valve called the tricuspid valve and into the second type of chamber of the heart – the ventricle

3) Blood then leaves the heart via the pulmonary (def.=pertaining to lungs) valve into the pulmonary arteries where it is transported to the lungs to allow for oxygenation. 

Delivering blood to working muscles

1) The oxygenated blood returns to the left ventricle via the pulmonary veins, entering through the two-flapped valve called the bicuspid (mitral) valve

2) The left ventricle is the main pumping chamber of the heart. It contains thicker walls allowing it to cope with the higher levels of pressure, so it can produce the required force needed to circulate the blood around the rest of the body. The force of the ventricle contracting sends blood out of the heart via the aortic valve into the largest artery in the circulatory system, the aorta

3) From the aorta, blood is transported wherever it is needed. 

The two sides of the heart are separated by the interventricular septum, separating the deoxygenated from the oxygenated blood. The diagram below illustrates these components of the heart.

Although this process is described linearly from the right to left of the heart, the two sides in fact work at the same time so blood will always be present in both sides of the heart. This is why it is given the name ‘cardiac cycle’. This process will produce one heart beat with the characteristic ‘lub-dub’ rhythm produced by the valves in the heart shutting.

How exercise keeps your heart healthy

Regular exercise, especially combined with a healthy diet, helps keep your heart healthy allowing you to live a longer healthier life. Strengthening the heart muscle allows more blood to be pumped with each beat, increasing cardiac efficiency, and reducing blood pressure and cholesterol which can contribute to the onset of atherosclerosis (the reduction or prevention of blood flow through the arteries). Regular exercise can even outweigh the risk for cardiovascular disease caused by a high BMI (Body Mass Index) emphasizing just how important exercise is for your heart health.

Aerobic exercise will keep your heart healthy, so try to increase the amount of activity you do - whether it is walking to work instead of driving or running that half marathon you’ve been considering. See how your genetics may influence what exercise is best for your heart and overall health in this blog.

At FitnessGenes, we give you a genetic based score of your blood flow efficiency along with strategies that you should adopt to improve it. ACE is an example of one of the genes used for this, with the D allele being linked to greater narrowing of the blood vessels which can negatively impact upon your blood flow.

Receive 41 genetic reports, personalized recommendations, and a genetically tailored workout and nutrition plans by purchasing a goal specific Genetic Workout System from our online shop.

If you enjoyed this article, please check out my other FitnessGenes blogs:

How Alcohol May Be Limiting Your Progress, Running and Genetics, Mindfulness, Genetic Dominance of East African and Jamaican Runners, Sprint and Power Performance, The Nordic Diet, Seaweed,  Oxidative Stress


Myers, J., 2003. Exercise and cardiovascular health. Circulation, 107(1), pp.e2-e5.

Ross, A. and Thomas, S., 2010. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. The journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 16(1), pp.3-12.

Swain, D.P. and Franklin, B.A., 2006. Comparison of cardioprotective benefits of vigorous versus moderate intensity aerobic exercise. The American journal of cardiology, 97(1), pp.141-147.

Koolhaas, C.M, Dhana, K., Schoufour, J.D, Ikram, M.A, Kavousi, M, Franco, O.H, 2017. Impact of physical activity on the association of overweight and obesity with cardiovascular disease: The Rotterdam Study. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

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