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Discovery: Do CPR—to the Beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive’

“Ah … ha … ha … ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

The classic Bee Gees disco hit from the 1970s is making a comeback—this time in CPR classes. A growing number of doctors across the country have been teaching hands-only CPR to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive,” and now a new study confirms their musical choice: Humming or singing the song, which has about 100 beats per minute, helps people maintain the ideal CPR rhythm needed to jump-start a heart that has stopped.

In the study at the University of Illinois medical school in Peoria, 15 students and doctors performed CPR on mannequins while listening to the song. Five weeks later, they performed the same drill without the actual music but were told to hum or sing the song to themselves as they did the chest compressions. While CPR is often performed too slowly—at just 80 or 90 beats per minute when the ideal is 100—they maintained about 109 compressions to the actual music, and 113 when they thought about the song.

“It drove them and motivated them to keep up the rate, which is the most important thing,” study author David Matlock, M.D., told the AP. He will present his findings at the American College of Emergency Physicians meeting in Chicago later this month.

“The study reinforces what we have suspected for the last few years,” said Vinay M. Nadkarni, M.D., a spokesman for the American Heart Association. “ ‘Stayin’ Alive’ has such a natural beat that it helps people remember the correct CPR rhythm.” He says that after an emergency medicine doctor in Hawaii discovered the effectiveness of “Stayin’ Alive,” from the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever, some AHA instructors began using the music as an unofficial training tool. The song provides the background music in the association’s videos demonstrating hands-only CPR.

“This was a song every boomer knew from the ’70s,” Nadkarni said. And now as they age and their chances of experiencing cardiac arrest increase, “that generation still remembers the song—and it can save their lives.” About 70 percent of all cardiac incidents occur at home, so a spouse or friend may be the one performing CPR.

With CPR, Nadkarni said, “People worry about doing the wrong thing. And really what they need to do is just find the middle of the chest, and push hard and push fast—to the beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive.’ ”

Barbara Basler is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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