Close your eyes and try this simple test
Can standing on one leg really predict how long you will live?
According to research, Yes
Kyoto University researchers led by Yasuharu Tabara have identified poor balance as an indicator of potential stroke and reduced lifespan.
The research studied a group of 1,300 middle-aged and older people. They found that being unable to balance on one leg for 20 seconds or longer is associated with early changes to blood vessels in the brain that potentially indicate future stroke risk.
They found the subjects who had trouble balancing for this length of time had cerebral small vessel disease, minute haemorrhages, or both.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) falls are the second commonest cause of accidental deaths worldwide.
Take the Test
Find room to stand within reach of something solid to grab if you lose your balance — no accidents, please.
Time yourself standing on each leg, don’t count or estimate the time yourself. Everyone speeds up counting in their head when they are under stress. Use an accurate timepiece or have someone do it for you.
This time with your eyes closed, time yourself standing on each leg again.
Take a note of your results.
The difference between steps 2 and 3 will highlight how important your vision is for balance.
With your eyes open
You should aim to balance, without putting your other foot down or wobbling like a jelly in an earthquake, for one minute.
The Japanese study showed that being unable to balance on one leg for 20 seconds shows future stroke risk.
With your eyes shut
The Medical Research Council tested 5,000 people aged 53. They completed the Step 3 test in front of specially trained nurses.
Men and women who could hold the position for less than two seconds were three times more likely to die before the age of 66 than those who could hold it for 10 seconds or more.
Those unable to do the test at all were more likely to die in the following 13 years.
Improve Your Balance
Balance is something most of us take for granted, but like muscle strength, if you don’t use it you lose it.
Standing up, let alone running or jumping, is a remarkable feat of coordination. It involves your brain organising all the information coming from your muscles, your inner ear and your eyes — and it does it almost instantaneously.
Good balance allows you to move confidently, whether you are carrying a bag of shopping into the house or crossing Niagara Falls on a wire.
The bad news is your sense of balance deteriorates as you age. This is why your kids are much less fearless climbing a tree than you are. Yet, we don’t think about balance — at least not until something goes wrong.
Improving your balance can have a life-changing effect. It increases core strength, coordination and improves your posture. It’s easy. You can do it when brushing your teeth.
What happened when I did it
Three weeks ago, I did the one leg test, eyes open and shut. I didn’t find balancing on one leg with my eyes open a problem, but I only managed a few seconds on my right leg with my eyes shut. My left leg was worse.
I made a point of practising this balancing act while brushing my teeth. Within three weeks, with my eyes shut, I managed 30 seconds standing on my right leg and about 15 seconds standing on my left.
I’m not sure why there was such a difference between left and right, probably it is down to being right-handed.
Dr Michael Mosely recommends you train your balance. Whether it’s while brushing your teeth, using a wobble board, or yoga — anything that taxes your whole balance system.
There is evidence that with each generation, we are less active and less interactive with our environment. Balance requires regular exercise, being on your feet and not sitting all day. All ages are spending more time sitting.
Less activity makes us more prone to falls. Fears of falling make us less likely to put ourselves in those situations. If we stagnate, our balance worsens. Losing your balance is an indicator of decline.
Improving your balance through dedicated practice can reduce your likelihood of falling and the subsequent injuries from falls. Every elderly person would benefit from not breaking their hip making their way to the toilet.
Now: Stand up, close your eyes and hop onto one leg.
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