Shaky onn one leg? According to a study, having good balance is related to living longer.

July 13, 2022

In the study, 1,702 Brazilians between the ages of 51 and 75 were asked to balance alone on one leg during the preliminary examination. Participants were instructed to keep their arms at their sides, gaze straight ahead, and place the front of their free foot behind the leg that was standing. According to research author Dr. Claudio Gil Arajo of the Exercise Medicine Clinic - CLINIMEX in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, being able to balance on one leg is crucial for older people for a variety of reasons, and it is also indicative of overall levels of fitness and health.

"We regularly need ... a one-legged posture, to move out of a car, to climb or to descend a step or stair and so on. To not have this ability or being afraid in doing so, it is likely related to loss of autonomy and, in consequence, less exercise and the snowball starts," he explained.

Poor balance and longevity

The participants in the study were two-thirds men and had an average age of 61. At the initial assessment, about 1 in 5 people were unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds. Following the initial checkup, participants were followed up on for a further seven years, during which 123 — or 7% — of the study's participants passed away. Significantly more people died among those who failed the test (17.5%) than among those who were able to maintain their balance for 10 seconds (4.5 percent).

The study discovered that those who failed the balance test had an 84 percent higher risk of dying from any cause; this association persisted even after taking into account other variables such as age, sex, BMI, and preexisting illnesses or health risks like coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. However, the researchers were unable to include additional factors such as recent history of falls in their analysis.

Since the study was observational, cause and effect are not revealed. The study did not examine any potential biological processes that could account for the association between poor balance and aging. Dr. As one leg standing requires good balance, which is linked to brain function, good muscle strength, and good blood flow, it likely integrates muscular, vascular, and brain systems so it is a global test of future mortality risk — albeit crude, according to Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine in the Institute of Cardiovascular & Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow. Sattar wasn't involved in the study.

Improving balance

According to the study, those who failed the test were generally in worse health, and a higher percentage of them had unhealthy blood fat profiles, were obese, or had heart disease, high blood pressure, or both. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes was also higher in those who failed the test. The study, which took place between 2009 and 2020, was a component of a larger research project that began in 1994. The likelihood of failing the balance test increased with age, roughly doubling every five years from the age range of 51 to 55 and onward. Approximately 54% of research participants aged 71 to 75 were unable to finish the test, compared to 5% of those in the youngest age group.

Arajo claimed that balance could be significantly improved by specific training, and this was something he worked on with patients participating in a medically supervised exercise program. However, there were no obvious trends in the deaths or differences in the causes of death between those who were able to complete the test and those who weren't. Arajo advised that it is advisable to stand close to a wall, table, or another person for support if you want to test your own ability to balance on one leg for 10 seconds. He did not yet have the data to determine whether improved balance had an impact on longevity.

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