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Image: John Travolta
Paramount Pictures
The 1977 John Travolta movie 'Saturday Night Fever' was a huge hit. Now a study finds the disco song 'Stayin' Alive' from the film has the perfect rhythm for performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 10/16/2008 4:04:14 PM ET 2008-10-16T20:04:14

Under most circumstances, it's best to keep the beat of the Bee Gees song “Stayin' Alive” out of your head, but heart specialists have come up with one good reason to remember: It could save someone's life.

Turns out the 1977 disco hit has 103 beats per minute, a perfect number to maintain — and retain — the best rhythm for performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

A small study by University of Illinois College of Medicine researchers in Peoria has found that 10 doctors and five medical students who listened to the "Saturday Night Fever" tune while practicing CPR not only performed perfectly, they remembered the technique five weeks later.

“It’s a song everyone seems to know, whether they want to or not,” said Dr. David Matlock, the resident and researcher who led the study. He hopes further research will confirm its use in lay people trained in CPR as well.

Results of the study are set to be presented later this month at the annual meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians in Chicago.

One trouble with CPR training, Matlock said, is that most practitioners, from trained medical professionals to people who take classes at the local fire department, fail to perform the potentially lifesaving technique aggressively enough.

Image: CPR practice
Ezra Shaw  /  Getty Images file
Most practitioners fail to perform CPR aggressively enough, says researcher Dr. David Matlock. “If you don’t push hard enough and you don’t go fast enough, you don’t push that blood where it needs to go,” he says.
“We stress that you have to push hard and you have to push fast,” he said. “If you don’t push hard enough and you don’t go fast enough, you don’t push that blood where it needs to go.”

A nudge from a song like “Stayin’ Alive” appears to help ensure that pace.

Participants in the study listening to the song performed CPR at the recommended rate, about 100 beats per minute. Five weeks later, without the music, they performed at 113 beats a minute, which is within an acceptable range, Matlock said.

Matlock stressed that the CPR-music connection was not his idea. The notion actually was suggested in 2005 by Dr. Alson Inaba, a pediatric emergency specialist at the University of Hawaii, after the American Heart Association came out with new guidelines for CPR.

“Both the message of the title and the mechanics of the music support the CPR message,” said Mary Fran Hazinski, a nurse at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville and senior science editor for the heart association.

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‘Do something rather than nothing’
Performed quickly and accurately, CPR has been demonstrated to save lives when implemented in the first minutes after someone's heart has stopped, Hazinski said. It’s not necessary to have formal training, she added. People who witness an emergency should call 911 and then begin hands-only compressions.

“The important thing is that bystanders should do something rather than nothing,” she said, noting it could save tens of thousands of lives a year.

The idea of using a song to remember rhythm is appealing to Glenda Henry, 56, an office worker at the University of Illinois College of Medicine who wants to be prepared but worries about performing correctly in a crisis.

"I've taken CPR before, but I forget," she said. "But if someone teaches me with 'Stayin' Alive,' I could do it.'"

Neither Matlock nor the heart association have compiled lists of other CPR-friendly songs, though many popular tunes do have the appropriate beat. One suggested song has the right rhythm but the wrong message:

It’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” by Queen.

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