Do you know how to perform CPR?

It’s the staple of television medical dramas, an emergency situation that requires a heroic bystander to perform CPR on an ill person.

We’ve all seen it dozens of times, but would you know how to do it yourself? 

First of all, what is CPR?

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation – and it’s a first aid technique for patients who are not breathing properly or whose hearts have stopped.

Anyone can learn CPR. It doesn’t need specialist medical training, takes a relatively short time to learn and could save a life.

Basically, CPR involves chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing to help circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body.

As well as being a chance to save a life, it can keep the brain and vital organs functioning until more sophisticated medical providers such as ambulance officers can take over.

CPR should be performed if a person is unconscious, is not responding to you and is not breathing or is breathing abnormally.

Chest compressions

According to the government health website HealthDirect, to carry out chest compressions you should:

  • place the patient on their back and kneel beside them
  • place the heel of your hand on the lower half of the breastbone, in the centre of the person’s chest. Place your other hand on top of the first hand and interlock your fingers
  • position yourself above the patient’s chest
  • using your body weight (not just your arms) and keeping your arms straight, press straight down on their chest by one-third of the chest depth
  • release the pressure. Pressing down and releasing is one compression.


To give mouth-to-mouth you should: 

  1. open the person’s airway by placing one hand on the forehead or top of the head and your other hand under the chin to tilt the head back
  2. pinch the soft part of the nose closed with your index finger and thumb
  3. open the person’s mouth with your thumb and fingers
  4. take a breath and place your lips over the patient’s mouth, ensuring a good seal
  5. blow steadily into their mouth for about one second, watching for the chest to rise
  6. following the breath, look at the patient’s chest and watch for the chest to fall. Listen and feel for signs that air is being expelled. Maintain the head tilt and chin lift position
  7. if their chest does not rise, check the mouth again and remove any obstructions. Make sure the head is tilted and the chin lifted to open the airway. Check that yours and the patient’s mouth are sealed together and the nose is closed so that air cannot easily escape. Take another breath and repeat.

Give 30 compressions followed by two breaths, known as ’30:2′.

Aim for five sets of 30:2 in about two minutes (if only doing compressions about 100-120 compressions per minute).

Staying the course

Keep going with 30 compressions then two breaths until:

  • the person recovers — they start moving, breathing normally, coughing or talking — then put them in the recovery position
  • it is impossible for you to continue because you are exhausted
  • the ambulance arrives and a paramedic takes over or tells you to stop.

Doing CPR is very tiring so if possible, with minimal interruption, swap between doing mouth-to-mouth and compressions so you can keep going with effective compressions.

If you can’t give breaths, doing compressions only without stopping may still save a life.

And if you are panicking about your pace on the chest compressions, if you’ve heard that rumour that the BeeGees Stayin’ Alive is the perfect tempo for CPR and disregarded it, well think again.

The team at fact-finding site Verify have confirmed the ’70s classic is the perfect timer for CPR. 

And if that doesn’t float your boat, you can also use ABBA’s Dancing Queen, Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia, or Lyndard Skynyd’s Sweet Home Alabama.  

Also read: Heart attack warning signs that could save your life

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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