RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Is better balance the key to a longer life? According to a new study, middle-aged people who cannot stand on one leg for 10 seconds are nearly twice as likely to die within a decade. Brazilian scientists say the simple and safe balance test should be part of a routine health check for older people.
Unlike aerobic fitness, muscle strength, and flexibility, balance tends to remain relatively stable until someone hits their 50s, and then it begins to decline rapidly. However, balance tests are not part of the regular health checks of middle-aged people, perhaps because there is no standardized test and there is little hard data linking it to injuries or illnesses other than falls, according to the researchers.
A team from Clinimex Medicina do Exercicio wanted to know if a balance test could be a reliable indicator of a person’s risk of death from any cause over the next decade and if the test should therefore be part of routine health checks.
They used participants from the CLINIMEX Exercise study, set up in 1994 to assess the links between various measures of physical fitness and the risk of poor health and death from cardiovascular problems.
The current study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicineincluded more than 1,700 participants between the ages of 51 and 75 (61 on average) at their first check-up, between February 2009 and December 2020. About two-thirds (68%) were men.
1 in 3 seniors failed the balance test
The study authors took multiple measurements of each person’s weight, skinfold thickness and waist circumference. They also collected details about their medical history. Only those with stable gait participated in the experiment.
As part of the control, participants had to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without any additional support. They were instructed to place the front of the free foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, while keeping their arms at their sides and gazing straight ahead. Researchers allowed each person to try it up to three times on each foot.
One in five (20.5%) failed the test and this percentage rose in tandem with age – doubling every five years from age 51 onwards. Among those aged 51 to 55, almost 5% have failed. Eight percent failed between the ages of 56 and 60. Eighteen percent failed between the ages of 61 and 65, and more than one in three (37%) failed between the ages of 66 and 70.
More than half of people aged 71-75 failed to complete the test, meaning people in this age group were more than 11 times more likely to fail than those 20 years younger . During a seven-year surveillance period, 123 (7%) people died.
The risk of death increases by more than 80%!
Those deaths included 32% cancer deaths, 30% cardiovascular disease, 9% respiratory disease and 7% COVID-related complications. There were no clear time trends in deaths, or differences in causes, between those who were able to complete the test and those who were unable.
However, the proportion of deaths among those who failed the test was significantly higher: 17.5% compared to just 4.5%. In general, those who failed the balance test had poorer health. Many were obese, had heart disease, or high blood pressure and too much fat in their blood.
Type 2 diabetes was three times more common in this group, about 38% compared to 13% among those who passed the test. After controlling for age, gender and underlying health conditions, an inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds was linked to an 84% increased risk of death from any condition. be the cause over the next decade.
“This is an observational study and as such cannot establish causation,” study author Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo said, according to a statement from the South West News Service. “As the participants were all white Brazilians, the results might not be more broadly applicable to other ethnicities and nations.”
“And information on potentially influencing factors, including recent history of falls, physical activity levels, diet, smoking, and use of medications that may interfere with balance, was not available.”
“The 10-second balance test provides quick and objective feedback to the patient and healthcare professionals regarding static balance,” the researchers told SWNS. “The test adds useful information regarding mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women.”
South West News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.
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