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People unable to balance on one leg in middle age are twice as likely to die early, scientists say

Middle-aged people who can’t balance on one leg are twice as likely to die early, scientists say.

Researchers in Brazil, who assessed 2,000 people between the ages of 50 and 75, found that those who couldn’t stand on one leg for 10 seconds were 84 percent more likely to die within the next decade than those who completed the exercise.

The ‘simple and safe’ balance test can detect people in poorer health – with those who struggle to complete the activity are more likely to have heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The “flamingo test” could be used in routine health checkups for older adults to provide “useful information” about their risk of death, the team said.

Researchers in Brazil, who assessed 2,000 people between the ages of 50 and 75, found that those who couldn't stand on one leg for 10 seconds were 84 percent more likely to die within the next decade than those who completed the exercise.  The

Researchers in Brazil, who assessed 2,000 people between the ages of 50 and 75, found that those who couldn’t stand on one leg for 10 seconds were 84 percent more likely to die within the next decade than those who completed the exercise. The “flamingo test” could be used in routine health checkups for older adults to provide “useful information” about their risk of death, the team said.

After taking into account age, gender and underlying health conditions, those unable to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without support were 84 percent more likely to die from any cause within the next decade.  The graph shows the survival rate between those who completed the 10-second single leg challenge (blue line) and those who failed (red line)

After taking into account age, gender and underlying health conditions, those unable to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without support were 84 percent more likely to die from any cause within the next decade. The graph shows the survival rate between those who completed the 10-second single leg challenge (blue line) and those who failed (red line)

To ensure that all participants did this in the same way, they were asked to place the front of one foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, keeping their arms at their sides and looking straight ahead (pictured)

To ensure that all participants did this in the same way, they were asked to place the front of one foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, keeping their arms at their sides and looking straight ahead (pictured)

Unlikely to be aerobic fitness, muscle strength and flexibility, balance usually remains fairly well preserved until people are in their sixties – from that point it deteriorates.

Balance checks are not routinely included in health checks for the elderly, which the researchers say is due to the lack of a standardized test to measure it.

There is also limited data on how balance is linked to health, other than an increased chance of falling.

To find out whether a balance test can be a health indicator, the team at the Exercise Medicine Clinic CLINIMEX in Rio de Janeiro studied the results of a previous study.

The study, which began in 1994, recruited 1,702 people in Brazil who underwent various fitness tests, including standing on one leg for 10 seconds without any support.

To ensure that all participants did this in the same way, they were asked to place the front of one foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, keeping their arms at their sides and looking straight ahead.

Researchers also collected data on their weight, waist size and blood pressure. Volunteers were followed for an average of seven years.

The results, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicineshowed that a fifth of the participants could not stand on one leg.

The rate increased with age: Only five percent of 51- to 55-year-olds failed the task, compared with 54 percent of 71- to 75-year-olds.

About 123 people died in the course of the study.

The scientists saw no clear trends in the cause of death between those who could complete the test and those who couldn’t.

However, after taking into account age, gender and underlying health conditions, those unable to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without support were 84 percent more likely to die from any cause within the next decade. .

Those who failed the test also had poorer health. A higher proportion were obese, had heart disease, high blood pressure and unhealthy blood fat profiles.

And type 2 diabetes was three times more common in this group.

The researchers noted that all participants were white Brazilians, so the findings may not apply to other ethnicities and countries.

And information about factors that could affect balance, such as volunteers’ recent fall history, their physical activity level, diet, smoking and drug use, was not available.

However, the researchers noted that the 10-second balance test “provides rapid and objective feedback to the patient and health professionals regarding static balance.”

They said it “adds useful information about mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women.”

HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY BALANCE?

There are some simple balance exercises that can be done at home to help improve health and mobility.

The NHS recommends doing balancing exercises at least twice a week.

walking sideways

A. Stand with your feet together, knees slightly bent.

B. Step sideways in a slow and controlled manner, placing one foot to the side first.

C. Move the other one to join.

Don’t let your hips drop as you step. Take 10 steps at a time or step from one side of the room to the other.

simple vine

This involves walking sideways by crossing one foot over the other.

A. Start by crossing your right foot over your left.

B. Bring your left foot to join.

Try 5 cross steps on each side. If necessary, place your fingers against a wall for stability. The smaller the step, the more you work on your balance.

Walk from heel to toe

A. Stand up straight and place your right heel on the floor directly in front of your left toe.

B. Then do the same with your left heel. Always keep looking ahead. If necessary, place your fingers against a wall for stability.

Try to perform at least 5 steps. As you progress, move away from the wall.

Stand on one leg

A. Start by standing facing the wall, with your arms extended and your fingertips against the wall.

B. Lift your left leg, keep your hips level and keep a slight bend in the other leg. Gently place your foot back on the floor.

Hold the lift for 5 to 10 seconds and perform 3 on each side.

Source: NHS

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