Balance and Longevity

Can you balance on one foot for 10 seconds? Aging adults recognize that as we get older we may experience muscle loss, decreased stamina, and issues with flexibility; balance, however, usually remains unaffected into our fifties and then begins to deteriorate with some rapidity after that. A test of balance that I often use with clients–and this is fairly standard in the fitness world–is a single-leg stance, also known as balancing on one foot. My goals is to get my clients to be able to balance on each foot for 30 seconds; for many of my clients this may never be attainable, but we work our way up as much as we can.

Past research has shown that those who can balance for longer periods of time on one foot are much less likely to experience falls. For older adults, falls can have especially serious consequences as healing takes longer and inactivity takes a greater toll. Falls can also lead to a loss of independence.

The results of a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that the inability to balance for 10 seconds is linked to nearly double the risk of death from any cause within the next decade. In other words, if you can balance on one foot for 10 seconds you cut your chances of dying in half over then next ten years. A recent article on cnn.com discusses the results. Previous research had linked the inability to balance with fall risk and cognitive decline, but never before with longevity. Of course, the ability to balance may be affected by a number of other health factors; those who failed the test were more likely to be obese, have heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

The study does not reach any conclusions about causality. If you practice every day and are able to balance for 10 seconds, does that mean that your longevity will automatically increase? More research will be needed to determine this. More likely, those who are in a normal weight range, have blood pressure and blood sugar under control, and have healthy hearts may engage in more healthy patterns of diet, exercise, and rest. Those who take better care of themselves may therefore be better able to balance on one foot and also live longer. Causality is not yet determined, only linkage.

What does this mean for us? Try the test and see if you are able…or if you are even close; always perform this test near a piece of furniture or kitchen counter, or with someone nearby, rather than in the middle of an empty room in case you fall. If you are unable to pass the test, it may be worthwhile to talk with a medical profession about ways to improve health outcomes. In the meantime, it could not hurt to practice balancing, eat right, exercise, and get plenty of rest; these all contribute to longevity and great enjoyment during those years.