It's probably the most common New Year's resolution -- to get in shape.  So, after weeks - or months of doing nothing, we hit the gym aggressively, to shed that weight.   But this approach is probably not the best.

   Dr. Andrew Pipe leads the Chief of the Division of Prevention and Rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and one of Canada’s leading experts in cardiovascular disease prevention.

   “If you have been sedentary, now is not the time to decide that in 3 days you’re going to acquire an exercise program that will equip you to compete in the 2016 Olympics,” says Dr. Pipe.  “That is not going to happen. So we need to focus on the careful, cautious approaches to the development of exercise at the same time emphasizing the importance of becoming active.”

      Doctors know that people who have had a massive heart attack or gone into cardiac arrest often have warning signs days or even weeks before but don't pay attention to them in the sense they attribute them to something else.  “Maybe they`ve got heartburn, maybe a sprained arm from snow shovelling rather than recognizing they`re actually having symptoms of angina,” says Dr. Pipe.

  Cathy Cotton has been exercising for four years now at the Curves along Ottawa’s Richmond Road and worked up to her current pace over time.

   “Getting fit of course is a reasonable goal for anyone at any age,” says Cotton. “I think the secret is to start at a pace that makes sense and stick to it.”

   Dr. Pipe says if people exercise regularly, watch their weight and diet --  and don't smoke -- the chances of a "cardiac event" are rare.

   Even people who are already active, though, need to be aware of certain signs that they may be having heart trouble.

     These are some of the warnings signs:  chest pain or heaviness in the chest, a pain in the back, neck, jaw or arm, shortness of breath, sweating and nausea.

   Women can experience different symptoms that might include extreme fatigue and chest pain that is both different in location and character.

 “Most women are primarily protected from coronary artery disease until menopause,” says Dr. Pipe, “but from then on, it`s much higher than it is for men of the same age.”

   Dr. Pipe’s motto is “when in doubt, check it out.”

   And how hard is too hard to be working out.   Dr. Pipe says the "talk test" is a good gauge:  if you're able to hold a simple conversation with someone while you' re running or skating, that's a good pace for heart health.