Health Clubs Should Screen for Heart Disease

Doctors, medical societies and public health officials have been encouraging people to exercise for years. It is quite apparent that those who exercise obtain multiple benefits. These include better control of blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and avoidance of hospitalization and early death. A consequence of the drive to increased exercise has been the outbreak of a new market, the health or fitness club. Such clubs are no longer merely the purvey of the wealthy country socialite, but are designed for the working person in order to make access to equipment, and a set time to keep in shape. Initially a place for the young to exercise, these clubs have become popular with people 35 years old and above. Some have become more popular with women, for weight control (Curves), others for faddish body development. 

Because of the prevalence of heart disease in the United States and the fact that many health-club participants are middle-aged, national health associations have issued guidelines for clubs to screen members for heart disease and to help ensure that clients exercise safely. The guidelines also recommend trained staff combined with medical emergency policies for clubs to follow in a medical emergency. Unfortunately, a large percentage of health clubs have not adhered to these guidelines and maintain neither an automatic external defibrillator (AED, the kind now found in almost all airports, airplanes and stadiums), an emergency response plan, nor conduct emergency response drills. Yet almost a quarter of such facilities will have one or more cardiac emergencies over 5 years. As people with heart disease are 10-times more likely to suffer from a heart-related problem, such as a heart attack or stroke, than healthy people while exercising, it seems quite reasonable to anticipate that you should be screened for problems.

Next time you enroll in a health club, you should expect to fill out a brief questionnaire to determine whether your heart can handle the rigors of the pool, squash court, or aerobics class. If you are not, perhaps you had better question whether or not the facility is following the guidelines of the American Heart Association, which along with the American College of Sports Medicine and the International Health, Racquet and Sports Clubs Association. This is especially important if you have had any history of heart problems.

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