Staggering results: Study finds that standing on one leg can reveal the risk of death in older people

July 6, 2022

Can you balance on once foot for ten seconds? For adults over the age of 50, the ability to do so may be indicative of their ability to survive, reports My Modern Met.

A study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that those middle-aged and elderly individuals who could ace this simple test would live longer than others who lack the innate  balance and endurance to stay upright. The researchers behind the study are even suggesting this simple test be incorporated into routine checkups for older adults.

The study examined data collected from a cohort of 1,702 participants between 2009 and 2020. During visits to practitioners, the patients were asked to balance on one foot while placing their lifted foot behind their weight-bearing leg. This is called a 10s OLS test. Arms remain at the sides. Gaze should be directed straight ahead. Participants were given three attempts, but the majority of those younger than 70 should be able to complete OLS easily.

One in five of the cohort failed 10s OLS test. Rates of failure increased as the age of the individuals did. Throughout the study, 7% (or 123 individuals) passed away—32% of deaths were due to cancer, 30% to cardiovascular disease, 9% to respiratory disease, and 7% due to COVID-19 complications. And 17.5% of those who failed the test passed away, as opposed to 4.5% who passed. Controlling for other variables, this equates to a 84% increased risk of death over the 10 years following a failed test.

Despite the staggering results, it’s important to note that correlation is not causation. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that people already in poor health will fail the 10s OLS test. For example, type II diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure were more common among those who failed.

“I think that poor nonaerobic fitness (normally associated with a sedentary lifestyle, but not always) is the background of most cases of frailty and it is well-known that being frail is strongly associated with a poor quality of life, less physical activity/exercise and so on,” Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo, lead author of the paper, told IFLScience.

Those with poor balance are also more likely to fall, which can cause complications. “The 10s OLS test [should] be included at the beginning of consultation, together with height, weight, and blood pressure measurements. That’s simple,” Araujo says.

For those over 70, they can rest assured that completing the 10s OLS test puts them above their peers in balance and is a predictor of survival.

Research contact: @mymodernmet