The inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds after the age of 50 could indicate an early death is on the horizon, new research suggests.
Researchers found that people who failed the balance test had double the risk of dying from any cause in the next 10 years. Nearly one in six of the poor balancers died within a decade, the study reported, compared to just one in 22 of those who passed the test.
The experts made allowances for other conditions that can influence the ability to balance, such as ill health or obesity, and found that even when those factors were taken into account, inability to complete the task raised the risk of death by 84pc.
One-leg standing time is a measure of postural instability, which some experts believe might go deeper than physical strength, and actually be a consequence of the presence of brain issues.
The author of the study, Dr Claudio Gil Araujo, of Clinimex Exercise and Sports Medicine in Brazil, said: “The 10-second balance test provides rapid and objective feedback for the patient and health professionals regarding static balance.
“The test adds useful information regarding mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women.”
Unlike aerobic fitness and muscle strength and flexibility, balance tends to be reasonably well preserved until people reach their 60s, when it starts to wane relatively rapidly.
For the study, 1,702 participants aged 51–75 were asked to undertake a balance test and then monitored between February 2009 and December 2020.
Around one in five failed to stand on one leg for 10 seconds. While just 5pc of the 51 to 55-year-olds could not manage the test, more than one-third of the 66 to 70-year-olds could do it.
In general, those who failed the test had poorer health: a higher proportion were obese, and/or had heart disease, high blood pressure, and unhealthy blood-fat profiles. Type 2 diabetes was three times as common in the failure group.
After accounting for age, sex, and underlying conditions, an inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds nearly doubled the risk of death in the next decade.
The research was published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
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