All Seniors Should Try This Balance Test: Study

Having the ability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds in your middle age might be a sign that you will remain healthy in the future, researchers say.

According to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the one-legged stance test (OLS), also called “flamingo style,” should be included in mid-life health check-ups as a simple way to gauge longevity. The test could provide “useful information regarding mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women,” the researchers of the study said.

Related: The MOST Important Exercise to Practice For Seniors

What did the study investigate?

Balance Test

The team of global researchers examined data on 1,702 people aged 51 to 75 in Brazil. The participants were asked to balance themselves on one leg for 10 seconds without additional support.

All the participants were asked to take off their shoes and socks, and then place the front of the free foot on the back of the opposite lower leg. They had to hold this position while keeping their arms by their sides and fixing their gaze straight ahead.

Each participant was given three attempts to perform the test successfully. The results showed that one in five people (20%) failed to pass the test. Incidentally, the inability to pass the test rose with age as 54% of the participants aged 71-75 were unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds as compared to just 5% of 51 to 55-year-olds, 8% of 56 to 60-year-olds, 18% of 61 to 65-year-olds, and 37% of 66 to 70-year-olds.

In general, the researchers found that those who failed the test tended to be older, overweight, or more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. 

The research team followed the participants for several years. After an average follow-up time of seven years, they found that 123 (about 7%) of the participants had passed away. Those participants made up about 17.5% of those who had failed the test, compared to just 4.6% of those who had passed.

The team concluded that an inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds was associated with an 84% increased risk of death during the follow-up period. They added that including the 10-second one-legged stance test as part of routine physical examination in middle-aged and older adults could be beneficial. 

What should we make of the study?

balancing, yoga

While these findings are certainly worth thinking about, they aren’t surprising. Previous research has indicated similar signs in our health. For example, a 2009 study found a correlation between slow walking speed and higher death rates from heart disease. Another study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology showed that the ability to sit up from the floor could predict mortality risk. Research also suggests that poor grip strength correlates with a risk of death.

What we also need to keep in mind is that the main causes of death of the 123 participants during the new study were cancer, heart disease, and respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. We need more research to understand how balance could have contributed to some of those deaths. The researchers would also need to examine a larger group of people to determine the effectiveness of the test. 

Related: The BEST Walking Routine For Seniors

A case for improving balance

senior, yoga, balance

Poor balance can lead to serious injuries and even death. Falls, for instance, are the second biggest cause of injury and accidental death globally. It can be a major concern for older people due to a higher risk of a serious hip injury. While this study doesn’t state whether or not better balance can help people live longer, experts do say that people with better balance are less likely to sustain falls.

If you want to improve your balance, set an appointment with your health provider. A physiotherapist may advise simple exercises like walking, biking, climbing stairs, stretching, or yoga. You can also read some of our articles on ways to improve balance below:

Improve Balance & Avert Falls in 5 Minutes With These Tips

This Great Exercise Guide Will Improve Your Balance

8 Seated Exercises For Improved Balance and Joint Mobility

4 Beginners Exercises to Improve Your Balance in 5 Minutes

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