Older Adults Who Can’t Do This May Be at Higher Risk of Death

Senior man leaning on a cane
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Can you stand on one leg for 10 seconds without falling? If the answer is “no” — and you are middle-aged or older — take it as a warning sign.

Being unable to complete this task at that age is associated with having an 84% higher risk of death from any cause over the next decade, according to study findings recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The higher risk of death was apparent even after researchers accounted for age, sex and underlying conditions.

The researchers’ conclusions were based on an examination of data from the CLINIMEX Exercise cohort study, which kicked off in the mid-1990s. Specifically, the researchers looked at data from around 1,700 participants between the ages of 51 and 75.

At some point, all of these participants were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without support. Overall, about 1 in 5 were unable to do so. Broken down by age group, the percentage who failed were:

  • Nearly 5% among those ages 51–55
  • 8% among those ages 56–60
  • Just under 18% among those ages 61–65
  • Just under 37% among those ages 66–70
  • Around 54% of those ages 71–75

The British Journal of Sports Medicine notes:

“In general, 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. And type 2 diabetes was 3 times as common in this group …”

During the average monitoring period of seven years, 123 people from the study, or 7%, died of various causes. The share of deaths among those who failed the balance test was higher, at 17.5%. Among those who completed the test, the share of deaths was just 4.5%.

The researchers say their findings indicate that using the balance test might be an effective way to uncover potential health risks during screenings of seniors. However, they also stress that because this was an observational study, it cannot establish a direct, cause-and-effect relationship between the inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds and an increased risk of death.

For more on keeping yourself healthy later in life, check out “7 Fatal Health Mistakes People Make After Age 50.”

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