Balance difficulties 'could be a sign of deeper health problems'

·2-min read

If you have difficulty standing on one leg for 10 seconds, it could be a sign of a more serious health issue.

Those in middle and old age who cannot balance on one leg for 10 seconds are almost twice as likely to die within 10 years than those who can, new research suggests.

A group of experts from the U.K., U.S., Australia, Finland and Brazil have completed a 12-year study examining the relationship between balance and mortality. Their results, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that the inability to stand on one leg for a reasonable period of time is linked to a near doubling in the risk of death from any cause within the next 10 years.

The researchers, led by Dr Claudio Gil Araujo of the Clinimex exercise medicine clinic in Rio de Janeiro, suggest a balance test should be included in routine health checks for older people.

A total of 1,702 people aged between 51 and 75 and with a stable gait were followed between 2008 and 2020 for the study. At the start, participants were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without any additional support.

To standardise the test, participants were asked to place the front of their free foot on the back of the opposite lower leg while keeping their arms by their sides and their gaze fixed straight ahead. Up to three attempts on either foot were allowed. One in five (21 per cent) failed the test.

Over the next decade, 123 died of a variety of causes. After accounting for age, sex, and underlying conditions, an inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds was associated with an 84 per cent heightened risk of death from any cause.

The researchers concluded that the 10-second balance test "provides rapid and objective feedback for the patient and health professionals regarding static balance" and "adds useful information regarding mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women".

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