Why Your Gym Needs an AED According to an ER Physician


Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can strike anyone, regardless of age or fitness level, even during exercise sessions. Having an automated external defibrillator (AED) on-site can help staff and other gym go-ers give immediate medical assistance to increase the chances of survival. 


Having an AED also gives those working out peace of mind that their gym is equipped with machines that keep them in shape and one that could potentially save their lives!



With 30+ years of experience in emergency medicine, Dr. S. Joanne Dames shares her first-hand experience using an AED in a gym setting and why she believes these tools are necessary for all gyms, fitness centers, and workout studios. 


We broke down why your fitness center needs an AED into the following reasons:

  1. Sudden Cardiac Arrest Happens In Gyms 
  2. Healthy Athletes Can Have Hidden Heart Disease
  3. AED Laws and Regulations Are Required At Most Fitness Facilities


Sudden Cardiac Arrest Happens In Gyms

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of sudden cardiac arrests happen outside of a hospital setting—one of those settings could easily be your local gym. According to the American College of Cardiology (ACC), studies have shown that although regular exercise will reduce the risk of SCA during and immediately after training, the risk of SCA is heightened because of exertion, hence the reason SCA can happen at the gym. 



In one particular study from the ACC, researchers looked at out-of-hospital cardiac arrest cases, including those in the health and wellness industry. They found that 52 out of the 849 instances happened at traditional gym facilities and 84 at alternative exercise facilities like dance or high-intensity interval training studios.



Similarly, 77% of these cases happened during exercise, with only 18% occurring after and 4% right before. The most common exercises people did when SCA happened included playing basketball, dancing, “working out,” using a treadmill, tennis, bowling, and swimming. 

With wait times for first responders ranging from 10 to 15 minutes, having an AED in a fitness facility or particular workout studio can significantly increase the positive outcomes for an SCA victim. 


Healthy Athletes Can Have Hidden Heart Disease

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping and effectively feeding blood through the body. Many things cause it, including pre-existing heart conditions like coronary artery disease, which prevents enough blood from reaching the heart to give the vital organs oxygen. However, in terms of athletes or active individuals, that’s not typically the leading cause.



Heart diseases that can go undetected, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, are the most common reason athletic individuals can “randomly” suffer from SCA. Dr. Dames was involved in doing cardiac screenings in young athletic individuals and found that, often, patients would say they had no symptoms or warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest. Still, she recommends all athletes to be cautious of the standard few hidden symptoms.



Dr. Dames said, “I’ve seen SCA occur in athletic, young patients with no history of asthma or lung problems. However, they may present with symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, or getting light-headed when exercising.”


These hidden symptoms can easily be pushed aside, but Dr. Dames warns that any abnormal pains, especially while exercising, should be taken seriously. 

What Can Athletes Do? 

Professional guidelines from organizations like the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and the European Society of Cardiology recommend active individuals receive annual physical and history exams. 


Even though some exams may include an EKG, they don’t always detect underlying heart issues. However, regular checkups that monitor an athlete’s lifestyle and the symptoms that appear when working out might uncover potential risks.


In a history or physical exam for an athlete, a physician may ask:

  • Do you often lose consciousness or faint while working out (not from dehydration)?
  • Do you experience chest discomfort while working out?
  • Do you feel winded or shortness of breath when exercising? 
  • Do you often drink energy drinks? 
  • Do you or any family members have a history of heart disease or a heart murmur?


Dr. Dames confirms, “Even if an EKG is done, it may not pick up an underlying heart defect; however, understanding an athlete’s lifestyle can help understand their risks.”   


AED Laws and Requirements in Fitness Centers

AED laws and requirements are another reason to invest in an AED for your fitness center. Laws and bills are passed every day, and if you are not compliant, you may risk facing the consequences of being non-compliant. 


A recent development in AED (Automated External Defibrillator) laws has brought significant attention to the safety protocols in fitness centers, one in particular being Washington State. Following the passage of a new law, Washington State now mandates the presence of AEDs in fitness centers, emphasizing the importance of quick access to life-saving devices.


This law follows the recent trend across various states in the U.S., where AEDs have been enforced in the fitness setting. 


If you live in the following state, you are required to have an AED on the premises: 


Dr. Dames’ Lifesaving Encounter: The Crucial Role of CPR and AED in Gyms 


Having an AED at your gym and fitness center can save lives. Dr. Dames has seen this firsthand in her gym. In 2007, what started as just another workout session led Dr. Dames to use her CPR and AED skills when she heard another gym-goer had collapsed on the basketball courts.


“As I was checking into the gym, I overheard this young man at the reception desk say, ‘Have the paramedics arrived yet?’ The woman behind the desk said, ‘Not yet, but we’ve called them,’ and he said, ‘Okay!’ and ran away. 


So in my head, of course, being the ER doc, I said to myself, okay – somebody’s down, they’ve called paramedics, I probably don’t need to get involved, but I hustled myself down to the courts regardless to see if they needed help.” 


Upon arrival, Dr. Dames found that a man had collapsed on the court minutes before her arrival. He was lying on his back, an AED sitting by his head, and a crowd of 30 people surrounded him, but not one person had started CPR on him. 


“I immediately dropped to my knees and started performing CPR,” Dr. Dames said.


As she started to break a sweat, Dr. Dames asked the crowd around her if anyone else knew CPR, and to her surprise, a handful of people raised their hands. The fear of getting sued, hurting the victim, or inability to perform chest compressions properly had led bystanders to instead allow the patient to lay unconscious for several crucial minutes. 


“The AED analyzed his heart, said shock is advised; I pushed the button, and as I did that, the victim took a breath, was nice and pink in color again, and started the breath. It was incredible.” 


The paramedics arrived 13 minutes after they had been called. Without Dr. Dames’ intervention, that man would not have had a chance to take another breath. By the time they arrived, his oxygen level and blood pressure were good, and he was breathing on his own because of the AED shock.



“At this point in my life, I had been an ER doctor for 17 years, and I had saved a lot of people, but this was the first time I had to do it without being in an emergency room. I realized all I needed were my hands and an AED—all things everyone else in that gym could access.” 


How Can Gyms Prepare for Cardiac Emergencies

Dr. Dames’s gym story alone reminds us of the importance of equipping fitness facilities with AEDs. Here are AEDSuperstore’s key takeaways on how gyms can help prepare for cardiac emergencies.


  1. Implementing a CPR and AED use training program for staff and fellow members can help empower the community to respond effectively in cardiac emergencies.

  2. Providing clear AED signage and information about the location of AEDs can significantly increase response time during critical moments.

  3. Investing in AEDSuperstore’s sports AED packages to equip your gym with top-quality AED devices in a kit that encompasses everything you need to start an emergency action plan for your facility. Browse our sports packages below. 



Proactive measures like AED placement and training programs can create safer environments for athletes and active individuals at every gym. We’d love to hear your save story, too – share your rescue story in the comments! 

If you have questions about our sports packages or how to get started with an AED program in your fitness center, please contact our team at 800-419-5620 or fill out our Contact Us form, and a team member will contact you! 


This article has been reviewed by Dr. Dames. 

Dr. S. Joanne Dames was an Emergency Department Physician for 14 years and an Urgent Care Physician for 24 years. She provides medical oversight for ArchTM Program Management and Medical Direction. In addition to practicing medicine, Dr. Dames has held a wide range of roles during her distinguished career.  

Dr. Dames has served as an Advanced Cardiac Life Support instructor at the Standford Medical Center, an American Heart Association spokesperson, and a San Francisco Opera medical consultant. Her extensive educational background includes degrees from UC Irvine, UCLA, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.


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