If Your Heart Stops, Gym May Be the Best Place to Be

Sudden cardiac arrest survival was more likely at exercise centers than other indoor locations

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) As the name implies, sudden cardiac arrest can happen anytime, any place and without warning. The odds of survival, though, may be greater if it strikes at a fitness facility.

Coronary heart disease, physical stress and some inherited disorders can trigger cardiac arrest — a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If a person experiences cardiac arrest, he or she needs attention fast.

According to a new study, exercise centers may be better equipped than other indoor locations to treat the condition and increase a person’s chances of survival.

"Exercise regularly to reduce your risk of sudden cardiac arrest."

Richard Page, MD, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, Wisconsin, led this study, which looked at 849 sudden cardiac arrests.

The events occurred at public indoor facilities in Seattle and surrounding King County, Washington, from 1996 to 2008.

Locations in this investigation were categorized as traditional exercise facilities (health clubs and fitness centers), alternative exercise facilities (bowling alleys, workplace or hotel gyms and dance studios) or non-exercise facilities (banks, restaurants, shopping centers and airports).

Sudden cardiac arrests numbered 52 at traditional exercise facilities, 84 at the alternative exercise centers and 713 at the non-exercise locales.

More than half (56 percent) survived the cardiac arrest at a traditional health club or fitness center. At non-traditional exercise facilities, the number who lived dipped to 45 percent, and about a third (34 percent) survived among those who had cardiac arrest at a non-exercise location.

The scientists emphasized that automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are often kept in health clubs and gyms. These devices, along with CPR, have been shown to save lives when used quickly after sudden cardiac arrest.

AEDs require no training, according to the American College of Cardiology. Bystanders can give treatment with the device to a person in cardiac arrest in the critical minutes before medical professionals arrive.

How typical it is for non-traditional exercise facilities to have AEDs remains a question, according the authors, but AED placement is less common at these locations.

Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas, told dailyRx News, “Without immediate care, including rapid defibrillation, cardiac arrest is nearly always fatal. When care is delayed for even a few minutes, the heart rhythm and blood flow can sometimes be restored, but the patient may suffer irreversible brain damage. That's why time is of the essence.

"I suspect that exercise facility personnel are better trained in managing emergencies of this type than are people who work in other types of businesses. They may be less intimidated or overwhelmed by the situation than someone outside of the health and wellness field," said Dr. Samaan.

The researchers also examined types of exercise that people were doing when sudden cardiac arrest struck. While regular exercise greatly lowers the risk of sudden cardiac arrest, the risk rises slightly during and immediately following exercise.

The study reported that in 77 percent of cases, sudden cardiac arrest happened during exercise, with just 18 percent after exercise and 4 percent before physical activity.

Dr. Page and his team discovered that about one in five cardiac arrest patients were playing basketball. Basketball is often played at non-traditional exercise facilities, like community centers or church gyms, according to the authors.

After basketball, cardiac arrests occurred while dancing and "working out" (both at 11.6 percent), using the treadmill (8.9 percent), playing tennis (6.3 percent), bowling (5.4 percent) and swimming (4.5 percent).

"Our findings should encourage broader implementation of and adherence to recommendations for AED placement and sudden cardiac arrest response protocols at traditional exercise facilities,” said Dr. Page in a press release.

“In addition, these standards should be extended to alternative fitness facilities, where sudden cardiac arrest incidence is comparable to that seen at traditional exercise facilities," he said.

Dr. Samaan added, "Most importantly, understand that quick action is critical when it comes to saving a life. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing someone who is near death, gray-faced and unresponsive, suddenly return to life."

This study was published August 7 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Review Date: 
August 8, 2013
Last Updated:
August 9, 2013