How to Save a Life: Plus Beats to Help You Perform Better CPR

First responders learn how to resuscitate someone to the beat of Missy Elliot. Here's why.

Medically reviewed in March 2020

CPR is a lifesaving technique that can help you resuscitate someone whose heart has stopped beating. This could happen for a number of reasons such as a drug overdose, drowning or sudden cardiac arrest. They can suffer from permanent brain damage or die if you don’t get them the help they need—and quickly.

Performing CPR can seem intimidating. After all, you don’t want to feel responsible if something goes wrong. During a cardiac emergency, 70 percent of Americans feel helpless or unsure of what to do. Many are afraid of hurting the victim. But if you’re ever in an emergency situation, being well equipped with the skills and knowledge to perform Hands-Only CPR will make you feel confident in your abilities. Research shows that chest compressions are just as effective as CPR with rescue breaths within the first few minutes of sudden cardiac arrest.

Before performing CPR

  • First, check the scene. Make sure that it’s safe to proceed before walking over and asking if the person needs help.
  • If it is in fact an emergency situation, call 911 or delegate someone else to call.
  • If there is someone nearby, ask them to immediately grab an automated external defibrillator (AED)—a portable device that can send electric shocks to the heart.
  • Check to see if the victim has a pulse and is breathing.
  • Do not wait longer than 10 seconds to decide to do CPR. Occasional sounds of gasping for air do not constitute breathing. Begin CPR immediately if you don’t hear normal breaths. 

How to perform CPR
Make sure the person is on their back. Get down next to their neck and shoulders and keep your arms straight. Position yourself above the person who is unconscious and put your hands, fingers interlocked, directly on their sternum. Then, begin to “Push Hard, Push Fast”—advice from the American Heart Association (AHA). Make sure your compressions are at least two inches deep for adults and children and 1.5 inches for infants. They should be fast too—100 to 120 compressions per minute. As a reference, push to the beat of the Bee Gees song "Stayin' Alive." The AHA also released new CPR guidelines in 2017 which state that adults no longer need to stop and give rescue breaths if someone needs CPR. Instead, they should continue doing compressions.

And they should not stop performing compressions until the following happens: the person shows signs of life, a paramedic arrives on the scene, the scene becomes unsafe to continue or an AED becomes available.

If there is an AED available, do CPR until it is turned on and the defibrillator pads are applied to the person’s skin. Gillespie does not want people to be scared of using an AED. “The CPR and AED guidelines are designed to be very simple for somebody who has no specific training in them,” she says. The device will walk you through how to use it once it’s turned on.

What happens if you get tired?
If you’re doing CPR correctly, then it will become exhausting. Every two minutes, or anytime you see someone becoming visibly tired, swap out. Before switching, be sure the next person to perform CPR is completely ready, positioned exactly opposite the person currently performing CPR, to avoid any delays. A pause can lead to decreased blood flow to the brain, so swap quickly.

Mistakes to avoid
Often times people don’t push hard or fast enough because they worry about causing injury. People can easily heal from a broken rib, but CPR can save a life.

Many people also assume that you have to be certified to perform CPR. However, that’s not the case. All 50 states have Good Samaritan laws that protect you from getting sued if you were trying to help.

Want to get certified? Search for a course near you by heading to the Red Cross’s site.

Find your CPR beat
If the Bee Gees are not your music style, there are plenty of other songs you can do CPR to. Here are some good options:

  • “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira
  • “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies
  • “Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake
  • “Cecilia” by Simon & Garfunkel
  • “Work it” by Missy Elliot
  • “Crazy in Love” by Jay Z and Beyoncé
  • “Float on” by Modest Mouse

Sites like Spotify also have specialty curated CPR playlists filled with songs that are between 100 and 120 beats.

No matter your taste in music, knowing how to perform CPR may one day help you save a life.

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