An inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds in later life is linked to nearly double the risk of death from any cause within the next decade, according to a new study.
The simple balance test may be useful to include in routine physical exams for people in middle and old age, the research, which was published Tuesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggested.
While aging leads to a decline in physical fitness, muscle strength and flexibility, balance tends to be reasonably well-preserved until a person's 50s, when it starts to wane relatively rapidly, the research noted. Previous research has linked the inability to stand on one leg to a greater risk of falls and to cognitive decline.
The study involved 1,702 people ages 51 to 75 living in Brazil, who were asked to balance unsupported on one leg during an initial check. Researchers told the participants to place the front of the free foot behind the standing leg, keep their arms by their sides and eyes fixed straight ahead. Up to three attempts on either foot were permitted.
Being able to balance on one leg is important for older people for a number of reasons, and it is also reflective of wider fitness and health levels, said study author Dr. Claudio Gil Araújo at Exercise Medicine Clinic - CLINIMEX - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The study participants had an average age of 61 and two-thirds of them were men. Around 1 in 5 failed to balance on one leg for 10 seconds at the initial checkup.
Researchers monitored the participants after the initial checkup for a period of seven years, during which 123 -- 7% -- of the people being studied died. The proportion of deaths among those who failed the test (17.5 %) was significantly higher than deaths among those who were able to balance for 10 seconds (4.5%).
The study found that for those unable to complete the balance test there was an 84% higher risk of death from any cause, and this link remained even when other factors -- including age, sex, BMI, and preexisting conditions or health risks such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes -- were taken into account.
The research was observational and doesn't reveal cause and effect. The study didn't look at any possible biological mechanisms that might explain the link between poor balance and longevity.
In general, those who failed the test had poorer health and included a higher proportion of people who were obese and/or had heart disease, high blood pressure, and unhealthy blood fat profiles, according to the study. Type 2 diabetes was also more common among those who failed to complete the test.
The study took place between 2009 and 2020 and was part of wider research project that started in 1994.
The inability to complete the balance test rose with age, more or less doubling at subsequent 5-year intervals from the age range of 51 to 55 and onward. More than half (around 54%) of study participants ages 71 to 75 were unable to complete the test, compared with 5% in the lowest age bracket who couldn't do it.