For some hunters, heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrests can be brought on by the strenuous exercise and dramatic bursts of activity that hunting can bring.
Fortunately, hunters can take steps now to protect themselves from heart dangers later this fall – and to make sure they’ll know what to do if a fellow hunter goes down.
Some of the easiest things to do right away include:
- Getting a pre-hunt medical checkup, with special attention to the heart for those who have had heart problems in the past
- Starting a daily walking routine or other exercise regimen in the weeks before hitting the woods
- Learning CPR and first aid
Too many hunters die or are left seriously incapacitated by heart-related illnesses that first strike during the hunt. Every hunter should treat the hunting season as if they were training for a major sporting event like a run or a tournament, because when they hit their target, or drag their trophy back to camp, the excitement and physical exertion can be intense.
For some, adrenaline rush can be dangerous
The adrenaline rush that comes with spotting your prey, and the sudden activity after sitting still for hours can be a dangerous combination, especially for people who are already at high risk of a heart problem. And for people who have already survived a heart attack or had chest pain in the past, the risk may be especially high.
Sudden cardiac death occurs when the electrical signals that control the heart’s rhythm suddenly go violently haywire, which results in a chaotic heart beat, or “electrical storm” in the heart that prevents it from beating effectively– a situation called cardiac arrest.
It’s most common among people who have already suffered a heart attack in the past, or who have certain other heart conditions. And while patients can often be revived with a shock from an automated defibrillator — such as those that are now available at many airports and malls — hunters are often miles away from the nearest source of help.
That’s why it’s so important for hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts to get a checkup before heading out to the woods. Screening can often predict who is most at risk of heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Endurance training for the season
Hunters who have had heart problems in the past should also ask their doctors if they should carry nitroglycerin tablets, to increase blood flow to their hearts if they suffer chest pain or a heart attack. They should also ask their doctors if it’s safe for them to drag a deer or take on other strenuous tasks.
And of course, it’s also important to get blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol checked, to see if these potentially heart-harming factors are in control or might need treatment.
Since hunting can be pretty strenuous exercise – especially for people who don’t already exercise regularly – it’s important for anyone to start building up their endurance in the weeks before hunting season.
Even a 30-minute fast walk several times a week can help – anything that gets your heart pumping at 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, which is calculated by subtracting your age from 220.
Take the next steps:
- Heart of a Hunter: Packing high-energy food
- Heart of a Hunter: Learn what to do if a buddy goes down
Dr. Eric Good is a cardiologist at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center who specializes in the treatment of heart rhythm disorders — a specialty known as electrophysiology. ’Hunter’ isn’t the only green for this wolverine – as he has roots at Michigan State University where he earned his medical degree.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.