It’s quick test and it’s free, but its results are invaluable. In fact, try this out. Literally, right now. Stop reading and follow these directions: Stand up. Cross your feet. Sit down on the floor. Get back up. How did you do? OK, one more: Stand. With your eyes opened, lift up one leg behind you. Hold for 20 seconds. Could you do it? How you answered, how well you performed these movements, is revealing more about your mortality than you realize.
Perhaps compared to the tests in first two parts of our three-part longevity series (catch up here and here), the fourth and fifth indicators of mortality discussed today may seem deceptively easy, but don’t be fooled by the amount of flexibility, strength, and balance required to do the Sit to Stand Test and balance on one leg…nor underestimate the powerful information they render.
The Sit to Stand Test
The ability to get on and off the floor without the use of your hands has been proven to be a predictor of how long you will live – or not. In a study performed in Brazil by Dr. Claudio Gil Soares de Araujo and a team of researchers, 2002 men and women ages 51 to 80 were followed for an average of 6.3 years. Those who needed to use both hands and knees to get up and down (whether they were middle aged or elderly) were almost seven times more likely to die within six years than those who could spring up and down without support. Their musculoskeletal fitness, as indicated by this test, was severely lacking.
The results were published in the European Journal of Cardiology and the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention in 2012.
“It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival,” according to author Dr. Araujo, who is a professor at Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeiro. He continues, “But our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, and coordination also has a favorable influence on life expectancy.”
Dr. Araujo adds, “If a middle-aged or older man or woman can sit and rise from the floor using just one hand – or even better without the help of a hand – they are not only in the higher quartile of musculo-skeletal fitness but their survival prognosis is probably better than those unable to do so.”
Not only does it show you about your strength, mobility, and flexibility, but more importantly for the aging, it tells you if you will be able to reach down to the floor to pick up something important like the keys you dropped, eyeglasses, or even a pencil.
Use two hands at first to stand up. Or, even use the help of a step, a couch, a stretch strap tied securely around to help you get up. Then, progress to use just one hand. Once you gain the ability to sit and stand without the use of your hands, the possibilities are endless: hip mobility, leg and core strength, and the freedom of knowing you are independent.
Balance on One-Leg Test
This simple test was proven to be another key indicator of early mortality. “Our study found the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health,” says Dr. Yasuharu Tabara, associate professor of genomic medicine at Kyoto University, Japan, who led the research. Dr. Tabara is on the cutting edge of medical research, with this study as this is the first study to investigate how long a person can stand on one leg as an indicator of brain health.
When Dr. Tabara asked each participant to balance on one leg (eyes open) for 20 seconds or longer, he found those who could not were at a greater risk for small blood vessel damage in the brain and reduced cognitive function in otherwise healthy people with no clinical symptoms, according to the research in the American Heart Association’s Stroke magazine.
His study consisted of 841 women and 546 men, average age of 67. Cerebral small vessel disease was assessed using MRI technology. The inability to balance on one leg for longer than 20 seconds was associated with cerebral small vessel disease. Overall, those with cerebral diseases were older, had high blood pressure and had thicker carotid arteries than those who did not have cerebral small vessel disease. Yet, even after adjusting for those conditions, people who had shorter one-legged standing times also had small vessel disease. Lower cognitive scores were also examined and linked with short one-legged standing times.
Even if you are just starting out, and require the use of a counter top or wall, it’s never too late to practice standing on one leg. Not only will you decrease your chances of cardiovascular disease, but you will also work all of those muscles in your feet, legs, and, yes, even your core. You just can’t go wrong with one-leg work.
Posture is important so your whole body is in alignment. Place your feet under your hips with your toes pointed forwarded and squeeze your bottom. Now that your posture is correct, can you lift of foot off the group and hold for 20 seconds? If you can’t, then hold onto a counter, again focusing on correct posture. Now practice, practice, practice. Just like learning a new skill like golf, tennis, or rowing doesn’t happen in a few weeks, this takes practice, or what we call “training.” This an easy one to do anywhere and at any time. On the conference call, waiting in line at the grocery store. What a great challenge for the New Year…20 seconds on each leg!
In summary, each one of these five indicators we’ve examined over out longevity series — Waist to Height Ratio (WtHR), Grip Strength, Consistent Exercise, the Sit to Stand Test, and Balancing on One Leg — is important. If you are struggling with one or two, then work just one or two as your homework for now! Longevity is worth it; remember, 40 percent of our risk is within our own control.