Health is About Balance… Literally

When’s the last time you tried to balance on one leg? If you can do it for more than 10 seconds, it’s a good sign of longevity.

new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that being unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds correlates to premature death (from any condition).

The study took roughly 1,700 participants ages 51 to 75 and tested their ability to stand on one leg (they were given three tries on each foot). One in five participants failed the challenge during this test.

All participants were monitored for seven years following this initial test. During this time, 123 of them had passed away. The individuals who could balance on one leg made up 4.5% of them. In contrast, those who failed to stand on one leg made up 17.5% of the deaths. It’s important to note that the research is not strictly cause and effect despite these findings.

The study found that those unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds had an 84% higher risk of death (by any cause), even when accounting for factors such as age, sex, BMI, and pre-existing medical conditions. The study did not, however, account for things like history of previous falls, smoking, diet, exercise, and medications.

Muscle strength and flexibility tend to decrease with age (unless actively working to maintain and build them). Balance, specifically, stays steady until a person reaches their 50s, at which point, research suggests it can start to change fast. As a result of this study, balancing tests may be included as part of a routine medical exam, at least for patients middle-aged or older.

Balance is crucial as people age, not only for its connection to cognitive health but for practical reasons. “We regularly need … a one-legged posture, to move out of a car, to climb or descend a step or stair, and so on. To not have this ability or be afraid in doing so, it is likely related to loss of autonomy and, in consequence, less exercise, and the snowball starts,” says Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo at the Exercise Medicine Clinic in Brazil.

Tailored exercise programs that include balance, strength, and posture training (such as yoga) may be beneficial in syncing up the physical with the cognitive ability to balance, to maintain equilibrium while only using one side of the body.  

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