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ePublication of Australian Fitness Network

With heart attacks killing thousands of Australians every year, it’s important to ensure you, your team and your fitness business have the apparatus and skills to potentially save a life.

This spring sees the annual ‘Restart a Heart Day’ taking place on 16 October. This global initiative has the objective of raising awareness of, and increasing education about, a couple of very important acronyms – CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) – within our communities.

Every year in Australia approximately 30,000 people(1) suffer a sudden cardiac arrest away from a hospital, a figure derived from a few studies in a few Australian states, as no nationwide data is collected. This lack of information is in itself is a problem when it comes to improving the care and survival of cardiac arrest victims.

Australia can do better at saving lives

A sudden cardiac arrest can happen anywhere, any time: at a sporting event, at the beach, at work, at the airport, at home – and at the gym. In Australia, the overall survival rate from a cardiac arrest is less than 10%, yet there are parts of the world where the rate is dramatically higher.

In Seattle in the US, intensive efforts have pushed the rate of survival after cardiac arrest to 62%(2). Seattle is a metropolitan area with similar characteristics to metropolitan Australia. Elsewhere in North America, system-wide programs have pushed survival rates into the region of 20-30%.

Unfortunately, there are some people who cannot be saved, despite best efforts. These are mainly older people who suffer a cardiac arrest when they are at home alone. Yet this does not explain – or excuse – our national record.

It should be feasible to target a survival rate of 50%, which translates into some 12,000 more Australian lives saved every year. This represents 12,000 devastating personal tragedies we can avoid. It also represents significant social and economic savings.

The first five minutes are key

We already know the answer to the problem. The first five minutes holds the key to survival. We need more people, of all ages, who are trained and willing to provide immediate cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). We need more, and easily accessible, defibrillators and more people prepared to use them. We need a coordinated healthcare system, designed to provide the type of care that increases the chance of surviving a cardiac arrest. Above all we need more citizens to be part of the solution. Increasing survival simply will not occur unless we empower the community to drive change from within.

When it comes to saving a life, all the stars have to be aligned – and time is critical.

  • Someone has to immediately recognise that a person has suffered a cardiac arrest and begin CPR
  • Someone has to call the ambulance
  • A defibrillator needs to be nearby and someone has to use it quickly
  • An ambulance needs to arrive fast and take the patient to the right hospital, where the best post-arrest care is available.

Luck is not enough

There are some cases where all of these critical steps occur, however this is rare. When it does happen, there is often a large dose of luck involved. The critical factor is that ‘someone’ nearby is trained to recognise cardiac arrest, and to respond the right way, straightaway. The truth is, doctors and paramedics cannot be everywhere, so we need to massively boost the number of citizens who can do the job.

At one level this means a major engagement with the public so we have more trained citizens who understand that they can save a life. It also means overcoming common barriers, such as the fear that CPR may potentially hurt a person in cardiac arrest, and the anxiety of being involved in a life-and-death situation.

Those who do survive are the lucky ones – lucky that a bystander is trained to help. Or lucky that equipment like a defibrillator is at hand. However, in a medically advanced country like Australia, luck is not an acceptable strategy.

The Chain of Survival

The best chance of surviving a cardiac arrest occurs when a victim’s care begins immediately. The interventions that have been shown to work are best summarised in the Chain of Survival. This is a useful metaphor for the linked series of actions that, when optimised, give a cardiac arrest victim the greatest chance of surviving without ongoing disability.

The Chain of Survival has five interdependent links:

1. Early recognition and early activation of emergency services

2. Early CPR

3. Early defibrillation

4. Effective advanced life support

5. Integrated post-cardiac arrest care.

Of these interventions, immediate and effective CPR and early defibrillation have been shown to be the most crucial. The highest rates of survival occur in communities where defibrillators are widespread and accessible and citizens are trained and willing to provide CPR.

CPR and the fitness industry

It is currently not a mandatory ‘standard’ for fitness facilities to have an AED onsite, but it is a strong recommendation from industry body Fitness Australia as well as from the Australian Resuscitation Council, Australian Heart Foundation and every ambulance service in Australia.

The Australian Fitness Industry Risk Management Manual states: ‘Ensuring staff are trained in managing cardiac emergencies, with a specified plan and appropriate resuscitation equipment including effective placement and use of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs)’ (p.127)

To adhere to Fitness Industry Risk Management standards, your business should provide a quality life saving device to ensure your business is Heart Safe, for your team, yourself and your clients. The best modern AEDs are very user-friendly, and include features such as video screens that can display colour animations, video instructions and on-screen text prompts.

If your fitness business has an AED then you’re off to a good start, and if not, then it’s important to make acquiring one a priority. The second part of the equation is having team members that are confident enough to use the device. With these two elements in place, your fitness business will be well positioned to save lives in case of cardiac arrest occurring on your premises.


Check out these useful links for more information on becoming heart safe.

Information provided by MindRay healthcare and Ray’s Anatomy For more information on getting involved in Restart a Heart Day this October, visit

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