For older adults, being able to balance briefly on one foot can predict how long they will live.
People who failed a 10-second balance test while standing on one foot were nearly twice as likely to die in the next 10 years, according to a report published Tuesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Unlike aerobic fitness, flexibility, and muscle strength, balance tends to be preserved until the sixth decade of life, after which it dramatically declines, the Brazilian researchers noted.
Exactly why a loss of balance can predict risk of death remains unclear, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo, sports and exercise physician and director of research and education at the Clinic of Exercise Medicine-CLINIMEX in Rio de Janeiro.
But poor balance and musculoskeletal fitness may be related to frailty in the elderly, Araújo wrote in an email.
“Older people who fall are at a very high risk of serious fractures and other related complications,” Araújo wrote. “This may play a role in increased mortality risk.”
Checking balance on one foot, even for a few seconds, can be a valuable way to determine someone’s risk of falling. A 2019 report found that the number of deaths from falls for people aged 75 and older was increasing in the US.
“Remember that we regularly need to get into a one-legged stance, get out of a car, go up or down a step or ladder, and so on,” Araújo said.
Araújo and his colleagues previously researched the link between movement ability and longevity. A 2016 study found that people’s ability to sit on the floor and then stand up without using their hands or knees for support could predict their risk of death over the next six years.
How does balance predict longevity?
To explore whether a balance test can reveal information about a person’s risk of death from any cause over the next decade, Araújo and his team re-examined data from the 1994 CLINIMEX Exercise cohort study, which evaluated associations between physical fitness, cardiovascular risk and risk of developing health problems and dying.
For the new report, the researchers focused on 1,702 participants ages 51 to 75—mean age 61—at their first study check-up, when weight, waist size, and body fat measurements were taken. collected. The researchers only included people who could walk steadily in their analysis.
In the first check-up, participants were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without holding anything for support. Participants, who had three attempts, were asked to place the front of the lifted food on the back of the weight-bearing leg, keeping their arms at their sides and their gaze fixed ahead.
Overall, one in five failed the test.
The researchers observed that the inability to pass the test increased with age. In general, people who failed the test tended to be in worse health than those who passed, with a higher proportion of obesity, cardiovascular disease and unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. Type 2 diabetes was three times more common among people who failed the test than those who passed.
After accounting for factors such as age, gender, BMI, history of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, the researchers found that the 10-year risk of death was 1.84 times higher in participants who failed the balance test.
The good news, said Araújo, is that “it’s never too late to improve your balance with specific training. A few minutes a day – at home or at the gym can go a long way.”
Studies like this provide a scientific basis for deciding on the types of measurements that will help assess a person’s physical performance, said Dr. John W. Rowe, professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. .
During a physical exam, doctors typically check people’s hearts, lungs, cholesterol, and blood pressure. But for the most part, they’re not measuring what shape people are in, Rowe said.
If a doctor determines that a patient has balance problems, a program may be prescribed to help improve fitness and balance.
“And if the doctor asks the patient to do a leg stand and the patient says ‘what’s the point of that,’ the doctor can say there’s an article showing that it can predict life expectancy,” Rowe said.