The ability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds can predict longevity

In a recent study, the death rate among those who failed a test to stand on one leg for 10 seconds was nearly 13% higher than those who passed. Image by Pexels / Pixabay

It sounds easy, but standing on one leg for 10 seconds can be more difficult than you think.

And your ability to – or not – could predict whether you’re more likely to die within the next decade, a new study suggests. That’s why an international team of researchers says the 10-second test should be part of routine health checks for all middle-aged and older adults.

“[It] it provides rapid and objective feedback for the patient and healthcare professionals regarding static balance, “said the researchers, adding that the test adds useful information about the patient’s risk of premature death.

Dr. Claudio Araujo of the Exercise Medicine Clinic in Rio de Janeiro led the study.

Araujo’s team noted that balance, unlike aerobic fitness, muscle strength, and flexibility, tends to be reasonably well preserved until a person’s sixth decade of life. Then it fades quickly.

For the study, the researchers used data from the CLINIMEX Exercise study, established in 1994 to assess the links between poor health, death, and various measures of fitness, exercise, and conventional heart disease risks.

Investigators collected control data from approximately 1,700 white Brazilians (aged 51 to 75) between February 2009 and December 2020. Controls included weight, various measures of skin fold thickness, waistline, and medical history. Only people who had a stable gait were included.

Each was asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds with no additional support. They were instructed to place the front of their free foot on the back of the lower leg of the opposite leg, keeping their arms at their sides and staring straight ahead. They had up to three tries on both feet.

About one in five could not do it. Failure was more likely with age, roughly doubling at five-year intervals from the age of 51 onwards.

About 54% of young people between 71 and 75 could not complete the test, according to the report published Wednesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

This was also true for 37% of young people between 66 and 70 years of age; 18% of those aged 61 to 65; 8% between 56 and 60 years; and 5% of the 51 to 55 age group.

That means those in the older group were 11 times more likely to fail than those who were 20 years younger, the study authors noted in a news release.

There were no clear differences in causes of death between those who could and those who could not complete the test. But the death rate among those who failed was nearly 13% higher.

According to the study, those who failed were more likely to have poor health, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, unhealthy blood fat profiles, and type 2 diabetes.

When the researchers took into account age, gender, and underlying conditions, they linked the inability to stand without support on one leg for 10 seconds with an 84% greater risk of death from any cause by next decade.

Over an average seven-year follow-up, 7% of the participants died – 32% from cancer; 30% from heart disease; 9% from respiratory diseases; and 7% from complications of COVID-19.

As an observational study, the research demonstrates no cause and effect. But the researchers said this simple and safe balance test could be included in routine health checks for the elderly.

More information

BBC Science Focus Magazine has a self-test to check your balance.

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