Since I post fitness-related stuff frequently, not sharing my point on the increasing frequency of heart attacks among gym-goers would be unfair.
Fitness has emerged as the new-age mantra of young and old alike and can be measured by the manifold increase in gym enrolments. Post-pandemic people have become more cautious about their health and are beginning to accept that regular exercise helps improve heart health and also lowers the long-term risk of cardiovascular problems.
There has been a sudden and alarming increase in the number of young people in their 30s and 40s who succumb to heart attacks in the gym. We read such news in the newspaper, see it on the news channels, and come across it on social media. Well, the information is not wrong. But the way it is presented in the headline makes us believe that the deaths are related to and caused by only going to the gym. Now, that’s a gross misappropriation.
So, who is more likely to have a heart attack due to strenuous exercises?
Just like all smokers don’t get lung cancer, and all swimmers don’t die by drowning, all gym-goers also will not have a heart attack in the gym. Let’s understand who could be most vulnerable to having a heart attack while working out.
- Pre-existing conditions: Sudden cardiac arrest while exercising happens due to existing blockages, diagnosed or undiagnosed, in one’s heart. The immediate risk for a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest is high, especially in people who are already predisposed to heart disease, either due to genetic factors or poor lifestyles. People with pre-existing diabetes, high blood pressure, a smoking history, and a family history of heart disease should be more careful not to overexert themselves in the gym.
- Lack of proper coaching and structure: Some people who start going to the gym have not been active since childhood and suddenly take up an intense activity without knowing their fitness levels and proper guidance, mentoring, and coaching. Unaccustomed strenuous activity can cause a sudden mismatch in the blood supply-demand equation of the heart, precipitating a heart attack. In addition, it may also cause the rupture of a pre-existing plaque in the arteries of the heart, or trigger an abnormal heart rhythm, both of which can cause cardiovascular collapse.
- Steroids: Certain stimulants to promote faster muscle growth, like steroids, can increase heart rate and blood pressure, potentially leading to heart events. About 1 in 4 lifters who took steroids had signs of atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up, in the arteries leading to their hearts. Research suggests they may cause a short-term spike in the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias).
- Bad lifestyle: Some gym goers assume that the one hour they exercise is the ticket they need to eat junk food and indulge in alcohol. Haphazard sleeping patterns and bad food choices make us vulnerable to heart-related events.
How can you prevent having a heart attack while working out?
It’s important for individuals of all ages to consult with a doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen, particularly if they have pre-existing health conditions or are new to exercise. Additionally, individuals should listen to their bodies during exercise and avoid pushing themselves beyond their limits. Keep the following points in mind:
- Get your cardiac screening done to know about your heart health.
- Opt for brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and yoga for 150 minutes at least 5 days a week. It is better to exercise for 45 minutes daily instead of 2-3 hours at a stretch.
- Exercise as per your capabilities and avoid pushing yourself just because others are doing it.
- Stop exercising immediately if you feel heaviness in your chest or back, feel nauseous, dizzy, or feel like you will collapse.
- Train under a coach or a trainer, preferably certified, who helps you understand your health goals better and designs a training plan for you accordingly, and ace forms and techniques as improper forms or techniques can put undue stress on the heart and other organs.
- Choose a gym that is equipped with an AED (automated external defibrillator) device or has personnel trained in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
What can you do if someone is having a heart attack in the gym (or anywhere)?
It’s critical to act quickly if someone appears to be having a heart attack in the gym (or anywhere). Here are some steps to follow to help revive a person having a heart attack:
- Do not waste time trying to understand everything and explain it to someone else. Instead, call for emergency medical assistance immediately.
- Stay with the person and provide reassurance, while waiting for medical help to arrive.
- Check if the person is responsive and breathing.
- If they are not breathing or has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately until medical help arrives.
- Use an automated external defibrillator (AED): If an AED is available, follow the instructions to use it.
It’s important to remember that performing CPR or using an AED can significantly increase the chances of survival for a person experiencing a heart attack. If it is performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival. Therefore, it’s a good idea to take a CPR course and familiarize yourself with the location of AEDs in your gym or other public spaces.
Note: Cardiac arrest isn’t the same thing as a heart attack, however. During a heart attack, blood flow to the heart muscle has been blocked or significantly reduced. It’s typically the result of a blocked coronary artery brought on by the cardiovascular disease. Cardiac arrest is when the heart’s electrical system has stopped sending signals for the heart to beat. A heart attack can sometimes progress to cardiac arrest, making CPR a potentially lifesaving procedure.
To conclude, working out to stay healthy and fit can be a rewarding experience if done with the right knowledge and under a good coach. Along with working out, focusing on following an overall good lifestyle, and getting periodic health check-ups to track your heart’s health are important.