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“Stayin' Alive" might be more true to its name than the Bee Gees ever could have guessed: At 103 beats per minute, the old disco song has almost the perfect rhythm to help jump-start a stopped heart.
And in a small but intriguing study from the University of Illinois medical school, doctors and students maintained close to the ideal number of chest compressions doing CPR while listening to the catchy, sung-in-falsetto tune from the 1977 movie "Saturday Night Fever."
The American Heart Association recommends 100 chest compressions per minute, but many people aren’t really sure what that equates to rhythmically. Study author Dr. David Matlock said in 2008 that "Stayin' Alive" has a way of getting stuck in your head anyway, which can help with that.
His study involved 15 students and doctors who first did CPR on mannequins while listening to the song on iPods, then five weeks later, they did the same without music, but thought of the song while doing compressions.
The average number of compressions the first time was 109 per minute; the second time it was 113. Though more than recommended, Matlock said that when it comes to trying to revive a stopped heart, a few extra compressions per minute is better than too few.
It turns out the American Heart Association had already been using the song as a training tip for CPR instructors for about two years. Association spokesman Dr. Vinay Nadkarni said they learned of it from a physician "who sort of hit upon this as a training tool".
"I don't know how the Bee Gees knew this," Nadkarni said. "They probably didn't. But they just hit upon this natural rhythm that was very catchy, very popular, that helps us do the right thing."