Last Night a Bee Gee Saved My Life

The committee members who make up the shortlist for the  Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine each year might want to start listing an unlikely trio of medical researchers: The Brothers Gibb, otherwise known as The Bee Gees.

Last fall, David Matlock, a medical resident with the University of Illinois School of Medicine presented a study at the American College of Emergency Physicians meeting that found listening to the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” during a CPR refresher course helped doctors and medical students perform the lifesaving method accurately. Retesting the same subjects five weeks later, with the subjects instructed to replay the song in their heads, the doctors and students continued to show excellent CPR technique. Though Matlock’s proof appeared to be the first scientific study of Bee Gee-related emergency medicine, inside medical sources (i.e. my wife), say that the song has been an instructional CPR tool for some time. [Conveniently, the song is also a health threat in its own right. – ed.]

Since it’s already stuck in your head by now…

The song’s medical benefits had little to do with the soothing sound of falsetto harmonies or fond memories of John Travolta, but rather with the pace: “Stayin’ Alive” struts along at 103 beats per minute, very near the 100 compressions per minute recommended for CPR. As such, any 100bpm song would do, but the uplifting message of the Bee Gees chorus makes for an irresistible and memorable lesson.

That tempo was harnessed for the powers of health again recently, this time as a guide for  aerobic activity. Earlier this week, the website of the Department of Health and Human Services spotlighted a May paper in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that found “Stayin’ Alive” sets the internal metronome for a healthy walking pace. Researcher Simon Marshall of San Diego State University determined that 100 steps per minute was the ideal rate for “moderate intensity walking,” which public health guidelines recommend adults do for at least 150 minutes each week. Therefore, humming the tune and making like Travolta is a low-budget solution for those unwilling to purchase a pedometer to track their feet.

“The tempo of it is such that – as with most disco music from the ‘70s – the beat is fairly consistent throughout the whole song, and most people find it hard to sit still to,” the pro-disco Marshall told HHS.

Of course, an anti-disco attitude can also help you burn off some calories, but may result in legal charges. If you’re planning on performing CPR or walking at a moderate intensity pace and can’t stand the Bee Gees (or just prefer “Night Fever”), here’s a list of songs that are exactly 100 beats per minute, so you’ll be even more accurate. Perhaps Ricky Martin’s “Shake Your Bon-Bon” suits you better? I won’t judge.

About Rob Mitchum (525 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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