Pass This Test, And You May Live Significantly Longer, So Says Science
If you want to improve your chances of living longer, nutrition experts, scientists, and medical professionals have a list of healthy habits to adopt that can potentially increase your life span.
Eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, managing your weight, and don’t smoke are among the usual recommendations for increasing longevity. These recommendations—and many others—are backed by scientific and anecdotal evidence.
In addition to lifestyle factors, some research suggests that a person’s genes account for 25 percent of the variation in the human life span. Now, a 2022 study by an international team of researchers says you are likely to live longer if you can pass this test: Balance yourself on one foot for 10 seconds.
According to the study, people 50 years old and over who could not pass the 10-second test had a higher risk of death, from any cause, over the next ten years. Information on influential factors such as the participant’s physical activity levels, diet, the use of drugs that may interfere with balance, and previous history of falls was not available during the study, according to the team of researchers from Australia, Brazil, Finland, United Kingdom, and the United States.
The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, involved 1,702 people from Brazil (68 percent men) ages 51-75 years old at their first check-up between February 2009 and December 2020. The average age was 61.
As part of their check-up, participants were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without any additional support. Researchers standardized the test by having all participants place the front of the free foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, while keeping their arms by their sides and their gaze fixed straight ahead. Participants were allowed three attempts in the balancing test.
During the study, the researchers found:
- About 1 in 5 (348) of the participants could not stand on one leg for 10 seconds.
- The older people were, the less likely they were able to keep their balance for 10 seconds. For instance, just under 18 percent of the 61-65 year olds and just under 37 percent among 66-70 year olds did not pass the test.
- More than half (around 54 percent) of the 71– to 75-year-old participants could not complete the test. These participants were more than 11 times as likely to fail the test as those just 20 years younger. Nearly 5 percent of those 51-55 year olds, the youngest group, could not complete the test.
- Participants who failed the test had poorer health than those who completed the test. According to the study, a higher proportion of these participants were obese, and/or had heart disease, high blood pressure, and unhealthy blood fat profiles.Type 2 diabetes was three times as common in this group.
- After accounting for age, sex, and underlying conditions, an inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds was associated with an 84 percent heightened risk of death from any cause within the next decade.
- More than 17 percent of participants died during the study’s seven-year follow up, compared to just 5 percent of those who passed the balance test.
The research team noted that balance tends to be “reasonably well preserved until the sixth decade of life, when it starts to wane relatively rapidly.” After that, there is a higher risk for falls and other adverse health outcomes.
The risk of falling is one of the reasons why health experts recommend balancing exercises for older adults. For example, one European study, involving 66 older adults found that 12 weeks of balance and strength training proved to be safe (meaning there was no training-related injuries), improved balance and strengthened leg muscles. Older adults who had supervised training improved the most, according to the study published in the journal Gerontology,.
Balancing exercises also help to prevent falls and injuries. A report in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society says that exercise has been shown to reduce falls by 13 percent to 40 percent. As a result, the report’s authors say there is a broad consensus among experts that older adults, especially those at risk for falling, should be offered exercise programs that include balance, gait, and strength training.
The authors of the one-legged stance study noted that falls are the second leading cause of injury and death around the world, particularly among people over 60.
Another exercise that improves balance in older adults is walking because it helps to build lower-body strength. What’s more, health experts agree that walking is a safe exercise that older adults can start at anytime and anywhere, including inside their home, in their neighborhood or in a gym.
The one-legged stance test has been used to assess balance over the last five decades, but it’s not routinely used during health checks of older adults, according to Dr. Setor Kunutsor, Senior Lecturer in Evidence Synthesis in the Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences and a co-author of the study. One reason is due to the lack of standardized tests for the one-legged balance exercise and a lack of data on this test with adverse outcomes, such as falls and mortality, Dr. Kunutsor added.
After reviewing their results, the research group recommended including the balance test in routine health checks for older adults. The investigators urged other researchers with similar data to report their results.
“The current findings suggest the 10-second one-legged stance is a potential practical tool that could be used in routine clinical practice to identify middle-aged and older individuals at high risk of death,” Dr. Kunutsor said in a news release. “We encourage researchers with access to these data to publish their findings to confirm these results.”