DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Do you want to know how long you will live? See how much of this you can do in one minute
It sounds bizarre, but the time that you can stand on one leg is a powerful predictor of how long you will live and how healthy you will be.
When I mentioned this in a column last year, many of you signed up to share how you did – and you also asked some honest questions.
If you improved your balance, would you live longer? Was it normal to be better on one leg than the other? And – one of my favorites – why was it easier listening to music?
The answers to this are: possible, yes, and I have no idea (but a lot of people think music helps them focus, and listening is known to turn on and off all kinds of brain regions depending on how much we like it, what may be a factor).
Dr. Michael Mosley in the photo shows how to test how well you age
If you missed that column, you can learn how to do the standing leg test by reading the panel below.
You also wanted to know if there were other ways to test how well you age. The answer to that is yes. Here are a few.
SIMPLE SEAT TEST THAT CAN GIVE YOU A BOOST IN OLD AGE
For this test, you should sit in a chair without arms and see how many times you can go from sitting to standing in a minute. Researchers, who started their studies in 1999, found that participants who managed to do it more than 36 times were twice as likely to live 13 years later compared to those who could only do 23.
GET A GRIP TO MEASURE YOUR FITNESS AND YOUR BRAINPOWER
… and don’t forget the one-leg test
The claim that a good measure of future health is how long you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed is based on a large study conducted by the Medical Research Council.
In 1999, researchers conducted three simple tests on 2,760 men and women in their 50s.
They measured the grip, counted how often they could stand upright from a minute of sitting, and measured how long the volunteers could stand on one leg with eyes closed.
Dr. Michael demonstrates the one-leg test
When they revisited people 13 years later, they found that performance in all three tests predicted how likely a person would die from cancer or a heart attack. But the one-legged standing test came out best.
Those who were two seconds or less on the previous test were three times more likely to die in the following 13 years than those who had ten seconds or more.
So … find a friend with a stopwatch. Place your hands on the hips, stand on one leg and close your eyes.
Stop the timing as soon as you start to lose balance. Take three attempts on average.
You have to do 13 seconds in your forties. If you are in your 50s, you should do more than eight seconds.
At 60-plus, you’re likely to save about four seconds.
Hand strength is a surprisingly good predictor of future health, especially since it is a great measure of your overall fitness. Even more surprising, it is also related to how well your brain works.
In a recent study of nearly half a million people between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers at Manchester University found that those with the best grip strength also performed better on a wide variety of brain tests. These include response time, logical problem-solving ability, and many different memory tests.
I was delighted to read this as I recently measured my own grip strength and found it to be surprisingly good for my age.
The only accurate way to measure your grip strength is with a handle dynamometer – a gadget designed specifically for this job. It’s funny-looking stuff, sort of a cross between a high-tech peeler and a calculator. They can be purchased online for around £ 30.
To use it, squeeze the dynamometer as hard as you can with one hand for about five seconds. Then do it with the other hand and take an average of the reading on the digital display. It gives a kilogram reading – measuring the strength of your squeeze.
Men are generally stronger than women, although of course that doesn’t make them brighter.
I have a 55kg grip, which is excellent for someone in their sixties (I’m 63). A normal measurement for a man my age would be between 31 kg and 48 kg, and a bad result would be less than 29 kg. For a woman in her sixties, a strong result would be over 28 kg, while less than 16 kg is considered poor.
There are detailed tables of average results for each age available online – look for handle strength standards.
Press-ups are also a good measure of the strength of your upper body and the health of your heart.
In a study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, a thousand firefighters in their early forties were asked to make as many press releases as possible within a minute. When the same men were seen ten years later, those who had done 40 or more pushups in the previous test were found to be 96 percent less likely to have a heart attack than those who had ten or fewer.
Unfortunately, they didn’t take this test on women, but in general, you’d expect a woman to be able to do half the pushups for her age as a man.
A man in his fifties should be able to do twenty, a woman at least ten.
I can do 40, although I snort and blow towards the end.
WHY A LOW RESTING HEART RATE IS VITAL
Resting heart rate is another good measure of overall health.
Measure yours by turning your right hand so that your palm is facing you, then use a few fingers of your other hand to measure your wrist around your wrist, on the side where your thumb is, just below where your wrist connects your hand . Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four to calculate your resting heart rate.
A study in Sweden, where they followed 798 men for 21 years, found that those with a resting heart rate of more than 75 beats per minute were twice as likely to die at the start of the study as those with a frequency of less than 60 beats per minute.
The resting heart rate is a good test of overall health and can be measured by turning your hand so that your palm is facing you, then using a few fingers of your other hand, shown counting the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four
People whose heart rates got faster as they got older were more likely to have a heart attack, possibly because they got fatter and less fit.
An increase in resting heart rate of just ten beats per minute meant an increased risk of death of 30 percent.
My resting heart rate is 60 beats per minute – about what it was ten years ago.
The tests I just described are all different fitness measures and you can improve all your results with a little bit of work.
To lower your resting heart rate, you should do more aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking, cycling, or running.
You can improve your grip strength by squeezing tennis balls or doing more resistance exercises, such as pushups.
As for balance, you could incorporate t’ai chi or yoga. Numerous classes are available online.
I practice balancing while brushing my teeth for at least 30 seconds on each leg. But do it with your eyes open or you risk falling and bumping your teeth!