You’re twice as likely to die in the next decade if you’re currently unable to balance on one foot for 10 seconds, according to a new study.
Conversely, the study suggests that your ability to balance on one foot points to longer life expectancy.
The peer-reviewed study conducted by Brazilian researchers, published Tuesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, determined that a person’s balance ability can be preserved into the sixth decade of one’s life – meaning it’s more broad of an indicator of life expectancy across age ranges than aerobic fitness, flexibility or muscle strength.
Dr. Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo, the lead author of the study and a sports and exercise physician at the Exercise Medicine Clinic Clinimex in Rio de Janeiro, said poor balance is linked to frailty in older adults and one’s musculoskeletal fitness is a prime indicator of declining health.
“If you are younger than 70 years, you are expected (as the majority of those at that age) to successfully complete the 10 seconds,” Araújo told USA TODAY in an emailed statement. “For those older 70 years of age, if you complete it, you are in better static balance status than your age-peers. …The advantages of the 10s OLS test include the fact that it is simple and it provides rapid, safe and objective feedback for the patient and health care providers regarding static balance.”
In conjunction with suggesting regular doctor visits feature a balance test, Araújo recommended that people try a 15-second balance test of their own during their morning routine when they’re brushing their teeth at home, to use as a barometer for their wellbeing.
Researchers in the study zeroed in on 1,702 participants from ages 51 to 75 for the study, with the average age set at 61. Their first checkup – study participants were tracked starting in 2008 – collected data on their weight, waist size and measures of body fat. Only individuals who could walk steadily were included in their analysis. Then the participants were all asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without holding onto anything for support. One in five failed the test. Each participant got three tries to put the back of their other foot on the weight-bearing leg, which could be barefoot or with a proper tennis shoe on.
The inability of participants to pass the balance test increased with age, while those with weight problems or diabetes were more likely to fail. The study’s finalized research factored in age, sex, BMI, history of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. The final results determined that the risk of death within a 10-year span was 1.84-fold higher in participants who failed the balance test versus those who passed it.
The test has its limits, Araújo noted: “This is an observational study, and as such, can’t establish cause. As participants were all white Brazilians, the findings might not be more widely applicable to other ethnicities and nations, caution the researchers.”