When a participant in a major event like a sportive or marathon suffers a heart attack, it makes headlines. But there's no need for MAMILs and MAWILs to panic: a new study shows middle-aged athletes are at low risk for having a sudden cardiac arrest while playing sports, and those who do have a greater chance of surviving.
"Because there is so much media attention when someone has a sudden cardiac arrest while playing sports, we want to make sure people know that the benefits of exercise far outweigh the risk of having a cardiac arrest," says Sumeet S. Chugh, MD, an expert in heart rhythm abnormalities.
"Even for middle-aged men, who are more susceptible to heart rhythm disturbances, the risk is quite low."
Dr Chugh is associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, Los Angeles California and one of the authors of the paper Sudden Cardiac Arrest During Sports Activity in Middle Age, published in the journal Circulation.
In the study, investigators studied the 1,247 people aged 35-65 from the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area who had a sudden cardiac arrest between 2002 and 2013. Results include: Just 5 percent, or 63 people, had a sudden cardiac arrest during sports activities.
The study also found that the survival rate of 23 percent was markedly higher for those who had a sudden cardiac arrest while exercising compared to just 13 percent for those who had a sudden cardiac arrest during other activities.
That higher survival rate is likely to be down to the sporting environment though. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was applied to 87% of those who had a sudden cardiac arrest while engaged in sports, but only 53% of those who had a cardiac arrest during other activities.
Although "sudden cardiac arrest" and "heart attack" often are used interchangeably, the terms are not synonymous. Unlike heart attacks (myocardial infarctions), which are typically caused by clogged coronary arteries reducing blood flow to the heart muscle, sudden cardiac arrest is the result of defective electrical activity of the heart. Patients may have little or no warning, and the disorder usually causes instantaneous death.
"The chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest is better if the episode occurs while exercising, probably because there are likely to be others around who can do chest compressions until paramedics arrive," said Chugh.
"What this study shows is that most middle-aged athletes don’t need to worry about sudden cardiac arrest while they are working out," Chugh said. "As our population ages, it’s important to know that older people can exercise without worrying about triggering a heart rhythm disturbance."
And if you don't know how to perform CPR, you might want to learn how.
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.