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 of standing on one foot were almost 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 exercise, flexibility and muscle strength, balance tends to be preserved until the sixth decade of life, after which it declines precipitously, the Brazilian researchers noted.
Exactly why a loss of balance can predict the risk of death is not yet known, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo, a sports and exercise physician and director of research and education at the Clinica de Medicina of Exercise-CLINIMEX in Rio. of janeiro.
But poor balance and musculoskeletal fitness can be linked to frailty in older adults, Araújo wrote in an email.
“Older people who fall are at very high risk for major fractures and other related complications,” Araújo wrote. “This may play a role in the increased mortality risk.”
Checking one foot for even those 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 of people aged 75 and over was increasing in the US.
“Remember that we regularly need to stay in a one-legged stance, get out of a car, go up or down a step or ladder, etc,” Araújo said.
Araújo and his colleagues previously investigated 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 in the next six years.
How does balance predict longevity?
To explore whether a balance test could reveal information about a person’s risk of death from any cause over the next decade, Araújo and his team reexamined data from the 1994 CLINIMEX exercise cohort study, which evaluated associations between physical condition, cardiovascular risk factors and the risk of developing poor health and dying.
For the new report, researchers focused on 1,702 participants ages 51 to 75 (average age 61) at their first study checkup, when weight, waist size and body fat measurements were collected. The researchers included only people who could walk steadily in their analysis.
In the first check, participants were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without holding on to anything for support. Participants, who were allowed three attempts, were asked to place the front of the raised food on the back of the weight-bearing leg, while keeping their arms at their sides and staring straight ahead. .
Overall, one in five failed the test.
The researchers noted that the inability to pass the test increased with age. Overall, people who failed the test tended to be in poorer health than those who passed, with a higher proportion being obese, having cardiovascular disease and unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. Type 2 diabetes was three times more common among people who didn’t pass the test than among those who passed.
After taking into account factors such as age, gender, BMI, history of heart disease, high blood pressure, 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 is never too late to improve balance through specific training. A couple of minutes a day, at home or in a gym, could go a long way.”
Studies like this provide a scientific basis for deciding on the kinds of measures that will help assess how well a person is physically functioning, said Dr. John W. Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at the Mailman School of Public Health. from Columbia University. .
During a physical exam, doctors usually check a person’s heart, lungs, cholesterol, and blood pressure. But for the most part, they’re not measuring how well people are doing, 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 stand on one leg and the patient says, ‘What’s the use of that?’ Rowe said.