A 10-second balance test may predict your risk of death according to a new study. Reseachers asked the volunteers to stand on one leg for 10 seconds and found that people who failed were nearly twice as likely to die in the next 10 years. Balance tends to decline in people after the 6th decade and poor balance and musculoskeletal fitness are linked to frailty in older seniors. Falling is one of the major complications of older age and a hip fracture is often the start of a downhill slide to immobility and death.
In this study, 1,702 participants from ages 51-75 (average age 61) were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without holding onto anything to support themselves. They were given 3 tries and were asked to place the front of the uplifted foot on the back of the weight bearing leg, while keeping their arms at their sides and their gaze fixed straight ahead. They only studied people who could walk steadily.
Overall, about 20% of people (1 in 5) failed the test and 54% of people age 71-75 failed. People who could not pass the test tended to be more obese, have unhealthy blood cholesterol and diabetes was 3 times higher among people who failed.
After accounting for age, sex, BMI, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, they found that the risk of death was almost 2 times higher in the people who failed the balance test.
There are a number of factors that contribute to balance. Long term alcohol use, inner ear problems, muscular issues, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and medications are just a few. The good news is that balance and stability can be improved with exercise, strength training, yoga, tai chi, Qigong and physical therapy. And it is fast. People notice an improvement quickly once they actively work on it.
Based on these findings, I'm going to incorporate the 10 second balance challenge with my patients. You can try it yourself and if you fail...time to look at making some lifestyle changes.