The inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds linked to higher risk of death

As a rule of thumb, I’ve always thought three simple physical tests can forecast longevity – the ability to rise from a chair without using your arms, to take eight steps in six seconds, and to be able to balance on one leg for 10 seconds.

Well, an international team of researchers, led by the Clinimex exercise medicine clinic in Rio de Janeiro and including Bristol Medical School are proposing the balance test be included in routine health checks for older adults.

They’ve proven the inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds in mid to later life is linked to a near doubling in the risk of death from any cause within the next 10 years.

The study includes 1,702 adults aged from 51 to 75 at their first check-up, between February 2009 and December 2020.

As part of the check-up, participants were asked to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without any support, with the front of the free foot on the back of the opposite lower leg. They had to keep their arms by their sides and their gaze fixed straight ahead.

Up to three attempts on either foot were permitted. Have a go yourself – just have something stable nearby to reach out to if you’re in danger of falling over.

Around one in five ­participants failed to pass the test. The proportions of those unable to stand on one leg for 10 seconds were: nearly 5% among 51 to 55-year-olds; 8% among 56 to 60-year-olds; just under 18% among 61 to 65-year-olds; and just under 37% among 66 to 70-year-olds. More than half (around 54%) of those aged 71-75 were unable to complete the test.

The proportion of deaths among those who failed the test was significantly higher – 17.5% versus 4.5%.

In general, those who failed the test had poorer health – more were obese, had heart disease, high blood pressure, and unhealthy blood fat profiles. Type 2 diabetes was three times as common in them as well

An inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds was ­associated with an 84% heightened risk of death from any cause within the next decade.

Dr Setor Kunutsor of Bristol Medical School added: “The current findings suggest the 10-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.

“We encourage researchers with access to these data to publish their findings to confirm these results.”