People who cannot stand on one leg for 10 seconds are almost twice as likely to die within 10 years, a study released Monday claims.
The study, which was conducted by researchers from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Finland and Brazil, claims to show that how well a middle-aged to older person can balance offers insight into their health.
Researchers followed 1,702 people between the ages of 51 and 75 from 2008 to 2020 for the study. All the study participants had a stable gait at the beginning of the study.
The study participants had an average age of 61 and two-thirds of them were men.
Participants were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without any support. They were asked to place the front of the foot that they raised on the lower leg of the foot they were balancing on. They had to keep their hands to their sides and stare straight ahead.
They had three chances to stand unassisted on either foot for 10 seconds. In the initial test, around 21% were unable to balance on one foot for 10 seconds.
During the decade that followed the initial testing, 123 study participants died of various causes.
After adjusting for age, sex, and underlying conditions, a person’s inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds was associated with an 84% increased risk of death from any cause, said Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo, of Clinimex Medicina do Exercicio in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the co-author of the study.
The proportion of deaths among those who failed the initial test was 17.5%. That number was significantly higher than the percentage of deaths — 4.5% — among those who were able to balance for 10 seconds.
The study was observational, Araujo said, and it did not establish cause and effect.
It also did not look at any possible biological reasons that might explain the link between poor balance and longevity.
Those who failed the initial test generally had poorer health, the study results showed, with a higher proportion being obese or having heart disease, hypertension, or high cholesterol or fats (lipids) in the blood. Type 2 diabetes was three times as common in the group.
The study aligns with other studies that have suggested that a person’s ability to balance on one leg can indicate a greater risk for falls and cognitive decline.
Dr. Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the Institute of Cardiovascular & Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow, told CNN that the research was interesting but not definitive.
“As one leg standing requires good balance, linked to brain function, good muscle strength and good blood flow, it likely integrates muscular, vascular and brain systems so it is a global test of future mortality risk — albeit crude,” said Sattar, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“If someone cannot do the 10 seconds and is worried, they should reflect on their own health risks,” he said.
“They could try to make positive lifestyle changes such as walking more, eating less if they realize they could do better — most underestimate importance of lifestyle to health,” he said. “But also, they could consult with their doctor if, for example, they have not had risk factors for cardiovascular disease measured or other chronic conditions such as diabetes tested for.”
The study’s authors say they believe that a balance test would be a wise addition to yearly physicals, noting that while aging leads to a decline in physical fitness and muscle strength, balance tends to be reasonably well-preserved until a person is in their 60s.
“We regularly need ... a one-legged posture, to move out of a car, to climb or to descend a step or stair and so on,” Araujo said. “To not have this ability or being afraid in doing so, it is likely related to loss of autonomy, and, in consequence, less exercise and the snowball starts,” he explained.
A balance test during a physical would alert doctors to changes in a person’s health, the study’s authors said.
“The advantages of the 10-second one-legged stance test include that it is simple and it provides rapid, safe, and objective feedback for the patient and healthcare providers regarding static balance,” Araujo told MedPage Today.
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