An international team of researchers believe a new test can reveal a lot about your state of health and your longevity.
Best of all, this test couldn’t be easier. I’ve dubbed it the “flamingo test” because it involves nothing more than standing on one leg like a flamingo.
Here’s what you need to know…
Unlike aerobic fitness and muscle strength and flexibility, balance tends to be reasonably well preserved until people reach their mid to late 50s, when it starts to wane.
For instance, between the ages of 40 and 49 a person can stand on one leg for an average of 42 seconds. This drops by only one second over the next decade. But in the 60s it falls to 32 seconds and then to 22 seconds between the ages of 70 and 79.
Because there’s no standardized test for balance, and hard data only links a loss of balance to falls, researchers from five countries wanted to know whether a balance test might be a reliable indicator of a person’s risk of death.
To find out, researchers gathered data from a trial that began in 1994 called CLINIMEX.
Large Scale Trial Results Surprised Researchers
The trial included 1,702 participants ages 51 to 75. The trial took note of each participant’s medical history and cardiovascular risk factors, as well as measurements of physical fitness, weight, waist size, and body fat.
As part of the checkup, participants were asked to stand on one leg for ten seconds without any additional support. Other trials give different instructions on how to position the free leg. In CLINIMEX, participants had to place the front of the free foot on the back of the standing calf muscle, while keeping arms by their sides and gaze fixed straight ahead. This makes staying balanced harder than other methods.
One in Five Failed
The results showed that overall, one person in five failed the test – they were unable to stand for ten seconds. Grouped by age, the failure rate was nearly five percent for those in the 51 to 55 age group, eight percent for those in the 56 to 60 age group, just under 18 percent for those in the 61 to 65 age group, just under 37 percent for the 66 to 70 age group, and more than half – 54 percent – for the 71 to 75 age group. Astoundingly, those in their seventies were 11 times as likely to fail the test as those just 20 years younger.
But what do these results say about one’s longevity?
Failing the Test Raises Death Risk by 84 Percent
During the seven-year monitoring period 7.2 percent of the group died. Of these only 4.6 percent passed the test compared to 17.5 percent who failed.
In general, those who failed the test had poorer health. There was a higher proportion who were obese, suffered from heart disease, had high blood pressure, or unhealthy blood fat profiles. And, perhaps not surprisingly, type-2 diabetes was three times as common in this group: 38 percent vs around 13 percent.
After accounting for age, gender, and underlying health conditions, an inability to stand unsupported on one leg for ten seconds was associated with an 84 percent heightened risk of death from any cause over the next decade.
Unfortunately, some key information was not available on the participants that could potentially have influenced the results. These include a recent history of falls, physical activity levels, diet, smoking and the use of drugs that may interfere with balance.
Supports Previous Trial Findings
Even so, the results support findings from an earlier major study of 2,760 men and women all aged 53 when the study began. After 13 years the poorest one leg standing performers were three times more likely to have died than the best performers.
Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo, who led the new trial, explained, saying, “The ten second balance test provides rapid and objective feedback for the patient and health professionals regarding static balance,” and that “the test adds useful information regarding mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women.”
Fellow author Dr. Setor Kunutsor added: “The current findings suggest the ten-second one-legged stance is a potential practical tool that could be used in routine clinical practice to identify middle-aged and older individuals at high risk of death.”