For older adults, being able to balance on one foot briefly can predict how long they will live.
According to a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on Tuesday, 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.
Unlike aerobic fitness, flexibility and muscle strength, balance tends to be preserved until the sixth decade of life, after which it declines precipitously, the Brazilian researchers noted.
The exact reason 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 Exercise Medicine Clinic-CLINIMEX in Rio. of Janeiro.
But poor balance and musculoskeletal fitness may 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 higher risk of mortality.”
Checking balance on one foot, even for those few seconds, can be a valuable way to determine a person’s risk of falling. A 2019 report found that the number of deaths from falls among people aged 75 or older was on the rise in the United States.
“Remember that we regularly have to stay in a one-legged posture, get out of a car, go up or down a step or a staircase, etc.,” Araújo said.
Araújo and his colleagues have previously studied the link between movement capacity 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 determine whether a balance test could reveal insight into a person’s risk of death from any cause over the next decade, Araújo and his team re-examined data from the CLINIMEX Exercise Cohort Study of 1994, which evaluated the associations between physical fitness, cardiovascular risk factors and the risk of developing poor health and dying.
For the new report, the researchers focused on 1,702 participants between the ages of 51 and 75 — mean age 61 — at their first checkup, when weight, waist circumference and body fat measurements were taken. been collected. The researchers only included people who were able to walk regularly in their analysis.
During the first exam, participants were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without holding on to anything for support. Participants, who were given three trials, were asked to place the front of the lifted food on the back of the weight-bearing leg, while keeping their arms at their sides and their gaze fixed straight ahead.
Overall, one in five failed the test.
The researchers noted that the inability to pass the test increased with age. In general, people who failed the test tended to be in poorer health than those who passed it, with a higher proportion being obese, suffering from cardiovascular disease and unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. Type 2 diabetes was three times more common among people who failed the test than among those who passed.
After taking into account factors such as age, sex, BMI, history of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, researchers found that the risk of death within 10 years was 1.84 times higher in participants who failed the balance test.
The good news, Araújo said, is “it’s never too late to improve balance through specific training. A few minutes a day – at home or in a gym could help a lot.
Studies like this provide a scientific basis for deciding what kinds of measurements will help gauge how well a person is functioning physically, said Dr. John W. Rowe, professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. .
During a physical exam, doctors usually check a person’s heart, lungs, cholesterol, and blood pressure. But for the most part, they don’t measure people’s fitness, Rowe said.
If a doctor determines that a patient has balance issues, a program may be prescribed to help improve their fitness and balance.
“And if the doctor asks the patient to do the standing position on one leg and the patient says ‘what’s the use’, the doctor can say that there is an article showing that it can predict life expectancy “, Rowe said.
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