Inability to stand on one leg predicts early death
Simple everyday tasks such as getting out of chair and standing on one leg can be used to predict which middle aged people are at risk of an early death, a study has found.
Men aged 53 years old who could balance on one leg for more than ten seconds and stand up and sit down in a chair more than 37 times in a minute were found to be least at risk of dying early by the researchers.
Women of the same age who could stand up and sit down more than 35 times in a minute and stand on one leg for more than ten seconds were also at the lowest risk compared to those who performed less well.
Everyday tasks such as getting out of a chair without help have previously been used as an early warning sign of ill health in elderly people but the new study shows they can be used to predict health problems in people aged as young as 53.
It is hoped that eventually nurses and doctors will be able to develop a screening test to identify people who need to make lifestyle changes or medication to stave off ill health as they age.
The new study found that men who could stand up from a chair and sit down again less than 23 times in a minute were twice as likely to die in the following 13 years than those who could 37 or more.
Among women those who could stand up and sit down again less than 22 times in a minute were twice as likely to die in that time than those who could do the test 35 times or more.
Those unable to do the test at all were almost seven times more likely to die.
In the standing on one leg with eyes closed test, men and women able to hold the position for less than two seconds were three times more likely to die than those who could hold it for ten seconds or more.
Those people unable to do the test at all were around 12 times more likely to die in the following 13 years.
A third test involved squeezing a special device to measure grip strength in kilos.
The researchers combined all three tests into one score where each test had equal weight. It was found that those who performed worse overall were five times more likely to die than those who performed the best.
The study tracked 5,000 people born in 1946 throughout their lives and who had completed the tests during home visits from specially trained nurses at age 53.
Lead author Dr Rachel Cooper at the Medical Research Council said the tests were a way off from being used as a screening tool to identify people in the general population at risk of an early death but greater research on different age groups may make this possible.
She said: "The majority of these studies are done in older people but we have shown that even in this younger age group, where you would not expect pre-existing disease, we are still seeing these measures are picking up some underlying ageing and disease process."
In a second research paper in the British Medical Journal, a team of American researchers found that increasing even light physical activity led to a reduction in disability among people with, or at high risk of developing, arthritis of the knee.
It was found that an average person who did four and a quarter hours of light physical activity, such as walking, were 43 per cent less likely to develop disabilities compared with those who did three and a quarter hours.
Disability was defined as having problems with everyday activities such as walking across a room, dressing, bathing, eating, using the lavatory, and getting into bed, cooking hot meals, grocery shopping, making telephone calls, taking medications, and managing money.
The researchers said this showed that even modest increases in light activity could make the difference between living independently or not and may mean they can avoid the need for knee replacement surgery.
The study involved 1,680 men and women aged between 49 and 83 who had arthritis of the knee or were at risk of developing it but currently had no difficulties with every day tasks.
Physical activity was measured using a device worn on the belt for seven days and then the numbers who developed problems with everyday tasks were recorded two years later.
In an editorial accompanying both papers, Dr Elizabeth Badley from the University of Toronto said that “little attention has been given to the question of how much activity is needed to make a difference”.
Dr Badley said that the lowest activity group should be a “priority group for intervention” and there is “good news that increasing activity just a little could pay dividends”.
She concluded that the underlying message is that “even a little helps – at least as far as physical activity is concerned”.