CPR Chest Compressions

Chest compressions to the sternum in the middle of the chest are the key tenet of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. 

Ahh, winter. The days are short, the temperature drops to skin-freezing lows, and you’re at risk to a number of medical ailments both mental and physical. Oh, joy.

Roughly five percent of the U.S. population suffers from seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that creates lethargy, sleeping problems or mood changes in some individuals. And a recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that there is a higher risk for cardiac arrest when the weather features “low air temperature, low air pressure, high wind velocity and shorter sunshine duration.” (Translation: winter time). Although bystander CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is a skill that’s useful in any season, understanding the basics of chest compression and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation can be the difference between life and death during the winter months.

Dr. Joshua Stilley, medical director of emergency medical services at MU Health Care, says that the most crucial tenet of CPR is delivering chest compressions. The most important parts of doing good chest compressions are getting the hands over the center to lower part of the sternum in the middle of the chest, pressing down about two inches, letting the chest fully recoil, and repeating the process at a constant rate between 100-120 beats per minute.

100-120 beats per minute is the perfect target range because, according to Stilley, any slower rate wouldn’t give enough compressions to the chest, and a rate faster than 120 beats per minute doesn’t allow the heart to fill back up with blood for the next compression. In order to remain in this constant rhythm for an extended amount of time, the American Heart Association and New York-Presbyterian Hospital have incorporated popular song rhythms into playlists as a reminder of the target range when teaching CPR.

Look for songs that have a stable, steady rhythm regardless of genre. “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees is one of the more famous examples, but you can think of country classics (“Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus), funky early 2000s jams (“Work It” by Missy Elliott), or contemporary hits (“Can’t Feel My Face” by the Weeknd), as well. “If you would run to a song or if it has a good running beat, that's probably a reasonable beat for CPR, as well,” Stilley says. “Most running songs that people listen to are in the 100-120 beats-per-minute range.”

Less than 20 percent of U.S. adults have formal CPR training, and roughly 3.5 percent  of people are certified in CPR training each year. But in Stilley’s mind, CPR is an essential skill that every adult should learn. “We see the highest rates of survival in cardiac arrest happen when there are bystanders doing CPR before the EMS arrives,” Stilley says.

Vox has created a playlist of over 30 popular songs that feature the target range of 100-120 beats per minute. So if you ever need to perform CPR — Heaven forbid — don’t panic. Just give compressions to the beat of any song on the list until medical personnel arrive.


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