Balance Ability Linked to Longer Life: Study

The simple balance test may be useful to include in routine physicals for middle-aged and older people, according to the research, which was published Tuesday in the British Journal of Sports. Medicine, he suggested.
While aging leads to a decline in physical fitness, muscle strength and flexibility, balance tends to be reasonably well preserved until a person’s 50s, when it begins to decline relatively quickly, the research noted. Previous research has linked the inability to stand on one leg with an increased risk of falls and cognitive decline.

The study involved 1,702 people aged 51 to 75 living in Brazil, who were asked to balance unsupported on one leg during an initial screening. The researchers told the participants to place the ball of their free foot behind the supporting leg, keep their arms at their sides and their eyes straight ahead. Up to three attempts were allowed on either foot.

Being able to balance on one leg is important to older people for several reasons, and it also reflects broader levels of fitness and health, said study author Dr. Claudio Gil Araújo, of the Medicine Clinic of the Exercise – CLINIMEX – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. .

“We regularly need… a one-legged stance, getting out of a car, going up or down a step or ladder, etc. Not having this skill or being afraid to do it is probably related to loss of autonomy and consequently , less exercise and the snowball starts,” he explains.

Poor balance and longevity.

Study participants had an average age of 61, and two-thirds of them were men. About 1 in 5 were unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds at the initial check.

The researchers followed the participants after the initial checkup for a period of seven years, during which 123, or 7 percent, of the people studied died. The proportion of deaths among those who failed the test (17.5%) was significantly higher than that among those who could maintain their balance for 10 seconds (4.5%).

More than half of those aged 71 to 75 were unable to complete the test compared to 5% in the 51 to 55 age group.

The study found that for those who were unable to complete the balance test, there was an 84% increased risk of death from any cause. and this link held even when other factors, including age, gender, BMI, and pre-existing conditions or health risks such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

However, the researchers were unable to include other variables in their analysis, such as recent history of falls, pattern of physical activity, exercise or sports practice, diet, smoking, and use of medications that can interfere with balance.

The research was observational and does not reveal cause and effect. The study did not look at any possible biological mechanisms that could explain the link between poor balance and longevity.

Dr. Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said the research was interesting but not definitive.

“Since standing on one leg requires good balance, related to brain function, good muscle strength, and good blood flow, it likely integrates the muscular, vascular, and brain systems, so it’s a global test of heart disease risk. future mortality, albeit crude,” said Sattar, who was not involved in the study.

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“If someone can’t do the 10 seconds and they’re worried, they need to think about their own health risks,” he said.

“They might try to make positive lifestyle changes, like walking more, eating less if they realize they could do better — most underestimate the importance of lifestyle for health,” he said. “But they might also check with their doctor if, for example, risk factors for cardiovascular disease or other chronic conditions like diabetes haven’t been measured.”

Improving balance

Overall, those who failed the test were in poorer health and included a higher proportion of people who were obese and/or had heart disease, high blood pressure and unhealthy blood fat profiles, according to the study. Type 2 diabetes was also more common among those who did not complete the test.

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The study was carried out between 2009 and 2020 and was part of a larger research project that began in 1994.

The inability to complete the balance test increased with age, roughly doubling in subsequent 5-year intervals from the age range of 51 to 55 and ahead. More than half (about 54%) of study participants ages 71 to 75 were unable to complete the test, compared to 5% in the younger age group who were unable to do so.

There were no clear trends in deaths, or differences in causes of death, between those who were able to complete the test and those who were unable to.

Araújo said that balance can be substantially improved with specific training, and this is something he worked on with patients involved in a medically supervised exercise program. However, she said that she did not yet have the data to assess whether improving balance influenced longevity.

If you want to test your own ability to balance on one leg for 10 seconds, Araújo advised that it’s best to stand near a wall or table or another person for support.

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