Rio de Janeiro Brazil – Is a better balance the key to a longer life? Middle-aged people who can’t stand on one leg for 10 seconds are almost twice as likely to die within a decade, according to new research. Scientists in Brazil say the simple and safe balance test should become part of a routine health check for older adults.
Unlike aerobic exercise, muscular strength and flexibility, balance tends to remain relatively stable until someone reaches their 50s, then it begins to decline rapidly. However, balance testing is not a normal part of regular health checks for middle-aged people, possibly because there is no standardized test and little solid data linking it to injury or illness beyond falls. researchers say.
A team from Clinimex Medicina do Exercicio wanted to know if a balance test could be a reliable indicator of a person’s risk of death from any cause in the next decade and if, therefore, the test should be part of health checks routine.
They used participants from the CLINIMEX exercise study, established in 1994 to assess the links between various measures of physical fitness and the risk of poor health and death from cardiovascular problems.
The current study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicineincluded more than 1,700 participants aged 51 to 75 years (mean age 61) at its first review, between February 2009 and December 2020. About two-thirds (68%) were men.
1 in 3 older adults failed the balance test
The study authors took various measurements of each person’s weight, skinfold thickness and waist size. They also collected details of his medical history. Only those with stable gait participated in the experiment.
As part of the check, the participants had to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without any additional support. They were asked to place the front of their free foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, while keeping their arms at their sides and staring straight ahead. The researchers allowed each person to try it up to three times on each foot.
One in five (20.5%) failed the test, and this percentage increased with age, doubling at five-year intervals starting at age 51. Between 51 and 55, almost five percent did not pass. Eight percent failed between the ages of 56 and 60. Eighteen percent failed between the ages of 61 and 65, and more than one in three (37%) failed between the ages of 66 and 70.
More than half of people ages 71 to 75 were unable to complete the test, meaning people in this age group were 11 times more likely to fail than people 20 years younger. During a seven-year follow-up period, 123 (7%) people died.
The risk of death is increased by more than 80 percent!
Those deaths included 32 percent from cancer, 30 percent from cardiovascular disease, 9 percent from respiratory disease, and 7 percent from COVID complications. There were no clear time trends in deaths, or differences in causes, between those who were able to complete the test and those who were unable to.
However, the proportion of deaths among those who failed the test was significantly higher: 17.5 percent compared to just 4.5 percent. In general, those who failed the balance test were in poorer health. Many were obese, had heart disease or high blood pressure, and had too much fat in their blood.
Type 2 diabetes was three times more common in this group, about 38 percent versus 13 percent in those who passed the test. After accounting for age, gender and underlying health conditions, the inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds was linked to an 84 percent increased risk of death from any cause in the next decade.
“This is an observational study and as such cannot establish cause,” says study author Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo, according to a statement from South West News Service. “Since the participants were all white Brazilians, the findings may not be more applicable to other ethnicities and nations.”
“And information on potentially influential factors, including recent history of falls, physical activity levels, diet, smoking, and use of medications that can interfere with balance, was not available.”
“The 10-second balance test provides quick and objective information for the patient and healthcare professionals regarding static balance,” the researchers told SWNS. “The test adds useful information about mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women.”
South West News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.