Q&A: ACSM Hosts 2010 World Heart Games for Cardiac Rehab Athletes
The ACSM World Heart Games are helping patients at high risk for or with diagnoses of cardiovascular diseases "reclaim the joy of sports." The event is an Olympic-style competition symbolizing that these patients can engage in and enjoy appropriate and invigorating sports competition like any other athletes. To appreciate the exhilaration experienced in these Games, just watch this video clip, showing patients at the Heart and Lung Games, held at Chicago in 2006.
These Games had their beginnings nearly 20 years ago in Georgia with efforts involving F. Stuart Sanders, M.D., FACSM, and his healthcare colleagues in cardiac rehabilitation. Sanders and several ACSM Fellows and other national leaders in cardiac rehabilitation have diligently planned the upcoming event, which is scheduled for May 14-15, 2010, at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga.
Q: What exactly are the ACSM World Heart Games?
A: The Games are a two-day Olympic-style competition for patients at either high risk for or with diagnoses for various cardiovascular diseases. The competition is an excellent opportunity for these special athletes to engage in a range of sports events that are consistent with their health status and capabilities.
These athletes are highly motivated throughout their training and preparations, able to further advance their fitness and skills, and enjoy new levels of camaraderie and excitement. First and foremost, the events are engineered to provide challenges that are calibrated to the capabilities of clinically stable patients whose physicians have cleared them for controlled exercise in their home rehab programs. Rules of competition are engineered to provide challenges that matched to capabilities of clinically stable patients. Events include shuffleboard, swimming, bocce ball, golf putting, basketball shooting, tennis, biking, volleyball, and bowling, among others. In some events, such as the one mile prediction walk, patients compete against themselves rather than opponents – the winner being the one who most closely predicts his/her finish time. Some events are even more novel, such as the ‘Game of Knowledge’ in which contestants must answer questions relevant to their health, such as exercise, nutrition, and heart disease risk factors. The environment for the Games is just as safe and well supported, with crash carts and emergency medical personnel available throughout.
Q: What do the participating athletes gain from this experience?
A: The enthusiasm, camaraderie, and competitiveness instilled in these patients are identifiable as soon as they have decided to begin training. We know that cardiac patients often see themselves in a diminished light, with concerns about how cardiac or pulmonary problems likely will permanently limit physical aspects of their lives and lead to more life-threatening events. In contrast, we have seen these Games transform patients’ outlooks, generating excitement and confidence about how much they might achieve. The experience often restores their optimism about the future. The expressions of passion during competition and emotional responses we see in them at the awards ceremony have been truly incredible. This is the case, regardless of the cardiac condition the athletes have experienced.
Q: What message should the ACSM World Heart Games convey to the general public?
A: The main point is to remind the public that cardiovascular disease continues to be one of the leading causes of death worldwide. These Games can be a tool to educate the public about this problem and the importance of understanding disease risk factors and healthy lifestyles. It also shows patients everywhere who are affected by CVD that a more physically active life is attainable. Many patients suffer depression in the early stages after a cardiac diagnosis or morbid event. In this regard, we want to educate patients, families, and communities that this is a temporary phenomenon and, through appropriate return to regular physical activity and lifestyle changes, a cardiac condition need not interfere with an active and socially independent life.
Q: How can ACSM members in cardiac rehabilitation help their patients register for the Games?
A: Further information and registration materials are available at the World Heart Games Web site. Opportunities for sponsorship are also presented at this web site and we encourage members to invite corporate colleagues to support this worthwhile event. Individuals with high risk for cardiovascular diseases are also eligible, not just patients with cardiac diagnoses. The registration deadline is April 15, 2010. To participate, the patient must complete a waiver, submit relevant medical information, and ask their doctor to complete an advisory form. The doctor must provide a confirmation that the patient is clinically stable and would not be exposed to undue risk by participating.
The Chicago 2006 Heart and Lung Games attracted more than 150 participants from the United States, Italy, and Scotland. Dr. Sanders is an internal and sports medicine physician and has directed the Habersham Cardiac Rehabilitation and Cardiovascular Fitness Programs in Demorest, GA, since 1986. He served on the medical team at the Olympics Games in 1996, 1998, and 2002 and as a Team USA Physician at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in 2004. He also will help with medical care at the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games early next year in Vancouver.
The 2010 World Heart Games are expected to draw more than 200 cardiac athletes plus many patient family members, and medical support staff. Special presentations will be given by ACSM officers. The Games are fundamentally related to ACSM’s goals of advocating healthful and medically appropriate physical activity for all – and the concept that
Exercise is Medicine.