Heart Attacks – A Hidden Danger in Recreational Hockey

In Canada, we love our hockey.

People from all walks of life lace up their skates and take to the rinks every winter, in pursuit of recreation, exercise, and bragging rights after the game.

There are, however, some hidden risks inherent in the weekly league matchup.  Because of the intense physical requirements of the game, even seemingly healthy players are at an elevated risk of a cardiac event while playing hockey.

According to data produced by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, as many as 15 out of every 10,000 recreational or pick-up hockey players will suffer a heart attack during a game.

This statistic is partly because, for many players, the weekly hockey game is the only exercise they get.  Their otherwise sedentary lifestyle makes them unprepared for strenuous physical activity.  Then, when they’re in the game, they get excited and play very hard, placing too much demand on their circulatory systems. This overload can cause a heart attack.

Also to blame is the cyclical nature of the game – players will engage in strenuous play for a couple of minutes, followed by a recovery period on the bench where they will do almost nothing. Then they’re back out on the ice working hard.  This puts their hearts at risk too.

So should you hang up your skates after a certain age?  Not necessarily.  Many health care providers have introduced screening programs for recreational hockey players.  These screening procedures are designed to reveal cardiac problems (like hardened arteries, blood pressure issues, etc.) before a player takes to the ice.  Screening should be done every year, before the hockey season starts, as a precautionary measure.

Hockey is very demanding.  As with any rigorous physical activity, you should consult your doctor before you engage to make sure you’re healthy enough.