- A new study found that 20% of participants were unable to perform a 10-second single-leg balance test.
- Researchers suggest that balance may be a stronger indicator of our overall health than ever before and hope to include balance testing in regular doctor visits.
- If you are experiencing balance problems, experts recommend working with your health care provider to determine the cause of your balance problems.
Have you ever tested your balance during a routine physical exam? A new study suggests it may be worth it. The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicineinvestigated whether doing a 10-second one-legged pose could be a common indicator of health, and now scientists suggest adding this test to your regular doctor visits.
Between 2008 and 2020, researchers surveyed 1,702 people, ages 51 to 75, for their ability to perform a 10-second one-legged pose. The participants were asked to stand on one leg with the free leg resting on the back of the standing leg and arms at their sides. They were given three chances to complete the balance task.
About 20 percent of participants were unable to complete the balance, and the number of those unable to balance increased with age. The study found that 5% of participants aged 51 to 55 failed, 8% of those aged 56 to 60 failed, 18% of those aged 61 and 65 failed, about 37% of those aged 66 and 70 failed and 54% of those between the ages of 71 and 75 failed. In general, those who failed the test had higher body weight, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, or type 2 diabetes.
After adjusting for age, gender and existing health conditions, scientists estimate that those who could not stand on one leg for 10 seconds were associated with an 84% increased risk of death over the next seven years. Factors such as recent falls, current physical activity regimen, diet, smoking, or drug use were not taken into account. Researchers suggest adding this test to regular physical health exams.
What experts from this study want to emphasize is that successfully performing a 10-second balance will not prevent heart disease, diabetes, or other diseases. The study itself focused on “all-cause mortality,” which can be related to many different things.
In the context of this study, those who were able to complete the 10-second one-legged pose had a reduced risk of falling, and thus an overall lower risk of death, explains. Robert Parisien, MDorthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Mount Sinai.
But it’s probably a good idea to add the test to your exam room. Arturo Miguel, PT, a physical therapist says this is something he would love to see in doctors’ annual checkups. “It takes 10 seconds, it’s easy to spot when a person loses their balance, and it’s pretty safe,” he says.
For now, this is not something doctors usually look at on your annual visit. “Often it is the patient who brings” [balance] instead of the doctor asking for it,” says James Gladstone, M.D., chief of sports medicine at Mount Sinai. He encourages patients with balance problems to report this to their doctor, as it raises the question of why there are balance problems at all. “The most important thing is to try and figure out why you have loss of balance and then you can treat it any way you can.”
But it’s very possible that someone won’t even notice that they’re out of balance, Miguel warns. He suggests keeping an eye on things, such as feeling like you’re moving when you’re not, if you regularly bump into things, or the need to hold onto things while moving.
Why is balance so important for overall health?
If a person has trouble with their balance, it may be due to weakness related to an underlying illness, injury, or inactivity, says Dr. gladstone. This may be related to a problem with muscle strength and coordination due to nerve damage in the spine or legs. Other balance problems can come from peripheral neuropathy, where you lose sensation or experience weakness or pain in your hands and feet. But it could also be a problem with your ears or something in your head or brain, he says.
But the real concern for most health experts when it comes to balance issues is that a lack of balance means you’re more prone to falls or injuries, says Dr. gladstone. “As you age, your bones become more brittle, so if you fall, you have a higher risk of breaking,” he says.
Falling is the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organisationand adults over the age of 60 experience the greatest number of falls. In addition to the physical implications of falling, Miguel adds that falling can lead to a long hospital stay, a burden on insurance and an even greater risk of additional injuries.
How can you improve your balance?
The key to improving balance problems is to first determine what is causing it. Then, with your healthcare provider, you can plan the best way to manage your concerns, says Dr. Parisian.
If there’s a bone density problem, your doctor may suggest increasing your calcium or vitamin D intake in addition to performing certain exercises, he says. If you have vestibular problems related to the inner ear, there are also many exercises that improve balance you can try it with a physical therapist, Dr. Gladstone says.
And problems related to muscle problems can be treated using balancing exercises build stability and strength. Miguel suggests focusing on maintaining good leg strength through exercise and staying active every day.
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