From about age 30, muscle strength and flexibility begin to decline unless you work to maintain them.
And if you are halfway fit and stop exercising as a young person, your aerobic fitness will decline after about a week of neglect.
In general, however, our balance ability is more or less maintained by just walking around.
When we reach 60, it starts to decrease quite quickly.
There’s plenty you can do to keep your balance — and your life may depend on it, according to a new study.
The international study, which involved researchers from the University of Sydney, found that “the inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds in mid to late life is associated with a near doubling of the risk of death from any cause.” the next 10 years”.
The researchers suggest that “this simple and safe balance test could be incorporated into routine health checkups for older adults.”
The researchers used participants in the CLINIMEX Exercise cohort study, a Brazilian program established in 1994 “to assess associations between various measures of physical fitness, exercise-related variables, and conventional cardiovascular risk factors, with ill health and death.”
The new analysis included 1702 participants aged 51 to 75 at their first checkup between February 2009 and December 2020.
About two-thirds of the participants were men.
Weight, waist circumference, and various measures of skinfold thickness were taken. Details of medical history were also provided. Only participants with a stable gait pattern were included.
During the control, the participants were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without additional support.
Specifically, to improve the test standardization, “participants were asked to place the front of the free foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, keeping their arms at their sides and looking straight ahead”.
A maximum of three attempts on both feet were allowed.
About one in five participants failed the test.
The failure rate increased with age, “more or less doubling at five-year intervals from age 51 to 55”.
While nearly 5 percent failed among 51- to 55-year-olds, just under 37 percent failed among 66-70-year-olds.
More than half of the 71- to 75-year-olds failed to complete the test.
In other words, “people in this age group were more than 11 times more likely to fail the test than those only 20 years younger”.
The analysis of death
During an average monitoring period of seven years, 7 percent of the participants died.
About two-thirds of the deaths were due to cancer or cardiovascular disease.
The researchers report that there were “no clear temporal trends in deaths, or differences in causes, between those who were able to complete the test and those who were unable to”.
But the death rate among those who failed the test was significantly higher: 17.5 percent versus 4.5 percent.
Overall, “those who failed the test had poorer health: a higher proportion were obese and/or had heart disease, high blood pressure, and unhealthy blood fat profiles.”
Type 2 diabetes was three times more common in this group: 38 percent versus about 13 percent.
After considering age, gender, and underlying conditions, the inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without support was associated with an 84 percent increased risk of death from any cause within the next decade.
This was an observational study, which cannot determine a cause.
The participants were all white Brazilians, meaning the findings “might not be more widely applicable to other ethnicities and nations.”
And information about potentially influential factors, including a recent history of falls, physical activity levels, diet, smoking, and the use of drugs that can disrupt the balance, was not available.
Nevertheless, the researchers conclude that the 10-second balance test “provides rapid and objective feedback to the patient and health professionals regarding static balance” and that the test “adds useful information about mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women.” people”.
The good news
For most elderly people, specific exercises can significantly improve their balance (see the video above).
If you try the one-legged stance described by the researchers — placing the front of the free foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, keeping your arms at your sides and your gaze straight ahead — don’t be discouraged if you cannot do this right away.
It may take a while. But the more you try, the more progress you make.
There are plenty of resources on the internet for older people.
If you have a partner or roommate, try to work together. You’ll have a few laughs and maybe live a little longer, and definitely better.