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February 4, 2018

Cardiac arrest is no joke. As the name implies, cardiac arrest refers to a stopped heart, and that’s not a good thing at all. Without a strong, regular heartbeat and proper circulation of blood, a lot can go wrong in a short amount of time.

If you think there’s no way to make a difference without investing years of your life into medical school and residency, it’s time to think again. Virtually anyone can master the basics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR. This manual exercise can keep blood flowing through the body even in periods of cardiac arrest, and saves tens of thousands of lives every single year.

What Is Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation?

More commonly known as CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a lifesaving medical practice designed to keep the heart pumping blood until EMTs or doctors arrive. CPR is extremely useful in a wide range of applications, from heart attack to near-drowning. While it’s unlikely the average person will ever need to perform CPR, learning is always beneficial, especially for those who work as lifeguards, in hospitals, with the elderly, or in any other circumstances in which cardiac arrest may be more likely.

According to the American Heart Association, over 350,000 cases of cardiac arrest occur outside of hospitals in the United States each year. An estimated 70% occur within the home, far away from the care of trained medical professionals. In these instances, CPR must happen as soon as possible to prevent loss of life. Tragically, almost 90% of cases of cardiac arrest outside of a medical facility result in death. However, when CPR is performed in the first few minutes of symptoms, survival rates can double or even triple.

How CPR Works

The heart is required to circulate blood throughout the body, working to keep all other organ systems functioning properly. When the heart fails, the rest of the body is not far behind. A lack of oxygenated blood to the brain leads to irreversible damage or death, creating a serious situation that requires immediate attention.

CPR performs as a stand-in when the heart isn’t pumping by itself and there are no other avenues for medical intervention available. By pressing down on the chest rapidly and repeatedly, it is possible to keep enough blood flowing to delay brain death or organ failure until paramedics arrive.

If you come across a family member, friend, or stranger who appears to be in distress, check for signs of life, pulse, and breathing. CPR should only be used when there is no pulse present, so monitor carefully before beginning.

CPR can seem confusing, but the acronym CAB can keep you on the right track: compressions, airway, and breathing.


In CPR, physical chest compressions keep the blood flowing through the heart. To perform compressions, individuals in cardiac arrest should be placed on their back on a dry, clean, and safe surface. While kneeling next to the neck and shoulders, interlock your fingers and place your hands directly in the center of the chest, between the nipples. With locked elbows, forcibly press down at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. A successful compression goes deep. Try to keep each thrust at a depth of between five to six centimeters, or around two inches.

A deceptively large amount of force is required to adequately perform CPR. It may seem frightening or harmful, but when chest compressions are done successfully, the sternum and ribs are likely to break.


Compressions are only a portion of CPR. When the heart stops, breathing often stops, too, which means that no oxygen is entering the lungs. In addition to compressions, your job as a CPR practitioner will be to keep air flowing into the lungs with every cycle.

After 30 compressions, check to see if there are any obstructions that could be impeding the airway. Tilt the head back, and use your thumb to open the mouth. If there is nothing in the throat, it’s safe to proceed with rescue breathing.


Memorialized in the movie The Sandlot, when beautiful lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn performs mouth-to-mouth to resuscitate the awkward Squints, rescue breathing is a key part of CPR. For adults, the proper ratio is 30 to two, or 30 compressions for every two breaths. After counting carefully to 30, tip the head back, block the nose, and breathe heavily into the mouth. If successful, the chest should rise and fall. After two complete breaths, transition back into compressions for another set.

Before Starting CPR

Despite the importance of CPR, it’s not always appropriate. Before starting CPR, thoroughly survey the scene and observe the surrounding area for additional dangers. To be sure you’re ready, review the following questions:

  • Are there any hazards in the environment that could harm me?
  • Is the person conscious with a pulse?
  • Does the person respond to attention, like tapping and shouting?
  • Is there an AED (automated external defibrillator) or a medical professional available?

If all the answers are no, it’s okay to proceed with CPR. If the situation is unsafe, the person is conscious or has a pulse, or a medical professional is in reach, it’s okay to delay starting the process. Before moving forward, call 911 or have a friend or acquaintance in the area make a call for you. Don’t forget to mention you’re performing CPR – paramedics can prepare to help with breathing masks and an AED with proper warning.

How the Bee Gees Can Help

Let’s face it: CPR is hard. Maintaining vigorous chest compressions can be very overwhelming and tiring, especially with the force needed to push down far enough on the chest to stimulate the heart. In fact, it’s not uncommon for those untrained or inexperienced to begin to tire in a matter of minutes. Even professional rescuers can have trouble sustaining the strength and energy needed to extend life.

So what can help a person perform CPR smoothly without a break in rhythm or pace? Believe it or not, the answer is music. Many songs in popular culture use a similar beat to CPR compressions, providing the motivation to maintain a 100 to 120 beats per minute pace, even when you’re tired, scared, or distracted.

In CPR classes, music like the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” is often used to teach the proper pace for CPR, helping students to connect the process of chest compressions with a real-world example. When a classic hit is playing in your head, it’s much easier to stay on the beat. This kind of instruction makes CPR relatable, even if you have no healthcare training, transforming a scary moment into something familiar and understandable.

Not a Bee Gees fan? While it’s hard to imagine anyone not loving the process of stayin’ alive, especially while performing a lifesaving technique, that’s okay. There are plenty of alternatives out there, like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” and even Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Any song that meets the 100 beats per minute threshold, no matter artist or genre, is a good candidate.

The Benefits of CPR Classes

CPR, while simple in theory, is often less so in practice. The timing for both compressions and breathing and the pattern of actions isn’t always easy to remember, especially in the thick of a health crisis. The act of CPR may seem a little embarrassing and awkward in the moment, but a little education and practice can go a long way in saving someone’s life.

Without practice, testing, and professional instruction, it’s easy to falter or get confused while performing CPR, even with the guidance of a little Disco-era song in your head. As such, it’s recommended that all physically capable teens and adults receive training in CPR, even if it’s in the form of an online certification program.

CPR training only requires a few hours of instruction, and quickly arms students with a valuable, life-saving skill. Those interested in learning more about supportive life-saving skills can take follow-up classes in a wide variety of topics and themes, like: Basic Life Support, Child Life Support, Wilderness First Aid, and Electrocardiogram.

Why CPR Matters

Simply put, CPR saves lives. Of the 350,000 out-of-hospital cases of cardiac arrest in 2016, bystander CPR was performed in 46.1% of cases for an overall survival rate of 12%, or approximately 42,000 lives saved. With nearly four in five cardiac arrest cases occurring in a home situation, the person you’re working to save is likely a friend, roommate, child, or spouse. You may not know that those around you are at risk, either; many cardiac arrest victims look and seem otherwise healthy. In order to increase the odds of survival, the American Heart Association trains approximately 12 million people annually in the basics of CPR.

Although CPR classes may be difficult to fit into your schedule, the valuable training can be lifesaving in an emergency situation. As a fast, easy way to potentially extend the lives of your loved ones in a crisis situation, there’s no reason not to learn a little more about cardiopulmonary resuscitation. As the Bee Gees so eloquently put it, “whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother, you’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

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