Departments: Cover Story/Online Bonus
In 1990, the Georgia Association of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation began sponsoring the Heart of Gold Games under the leadership of F. Stuart Sanders, MD, clinical professor of medicine at Emory University. Cardiac rehabilitation programs from around the state sent teams to compete in several events. Sanders took the local idea and expanded it into the International Heart & Lung Games of 2003 and 2006, with grants from the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. This year, the American College of Sports Medicine became the main sponsor of what's now known as the World Heart Games. “We got the word out to athletes by sending flyers and a Web link to a video about the Games to cardiac rehab programs across the country and to all members of the ACSM,” he says. This year the games were not as “international” as in the past; a Scottish team of athletes cancelled at the last minute due to illness, and an Italian team lacked the funds to travel to the Games.
Sanders, who has worked as a physician for the host city in four Summer and Winter Olympic Games, mostly in the polyclinic to treat all athletes, has seen firsthand the joy of competition and camaraderie among top athletes. “I wanted to provide the same opportunity for heart patients,” he says. “Many people become depressed when they have a heart attack and face mortality.”
The 2010 Games featured 15 athletic events, including bocce ball, a nine-hole golf tournament and basketball foul shooting, and a “Game of Knowledge,” in which participants were asked 10 questions related to exercise, nutrition and risk factors for heart disease.
Before the Games, each competitor provided a full medical history and a signed release form from his or her doctor attesting that it was safe to compete. A medical team accompanied the athletes to each event. Medical volunteers with fully equipped crash carts and first aid supplies were present at all times, but these services were not needed, even though it was hot and humid both days. “There were no cardiac emergencies, and no one got hurt,” says Sanders.
The goal of the Games, says Sanders, is to highlight the effectiveness of cardiac rehab programs. However, studies show that less than 15 percent of heart attack patients and less than one third who have cardiac bypass surgery avail themselves of cardiac rehab. “Cardiac rehab programs are safe, and important. Just being in a program decreases your chances of dying of a second heart attack by 25 percent,” says Sanders.
If you're in cardiac rehab, or have graduated from a rehab program and are engaging in more than 150 minutes a week of moderate and vigorous physical activity, you have plenty of time to get yourself into competitive shape for the next World Heart Games, scheduled for 2013.
© 2010 American Heart Association, Inc.