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Research has shown that 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 research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests a flamingo-style balance test provides “useful information regarding mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women”.

Dr Araújo and a team that included researchers from Bristol Medical School found that an inability to stand unsupported on one leg for ten seconds — to standardise the test they asked participants to rest their free foot on the back of the leg they were balancing on, and stare forwards — was associated with an 84 per cent raised risk of death from any cause.

The 1702 participants aged 51 to 75 from Brazil were allowed three attempts at the test. One in five people (20%) failed to pass the test, with the inability to do so rising with age – 54% of those aged 71 to 75 were unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds compared to just 5% of 51 to 55-year-olds, 8% of 56 to 60-year-olds, 18% of 61 to 65-year-olds and 37% of 66 to 70-year-olds. During an average monitoring period of seven years, 123 people died: cancer (32%); cardiovascular disease (30%); respiratory disease (9%); and COVID-19 complications (7%).

So stark is the evidence that Dr Araújo and the research team are calling for balance tests to be included in health screening of older people. Poor balance is a known side effect of underlying medical conditions including inner ear infections, hearing loss, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and stroke.

The test is limited in that it is an observational study and cannot establish cause. Also, participants were all white Brazilians, so the findings might not be more widely applicable to other ethnicities and nations.

However, “The 10 second balance test provides rapid and objective feedback for the patient and health professionals regarding static balance and that the test adds useful information regarding mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women.” said Dr Araújo.

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