Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

10 Seconds to Predict Your Mortality

STORKS WIN! NEW RESEARCH ILLUSTRATES the ability to stand on one leg for at least ten seconds is strongly associated with our death risk over the next seven years.

Before we get to the importance of single-leg standing, I have to share with you a stork quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

But to measure cause and effect, you must ensure that a simple correlation, however tempting it may be, is not mistaken for a cause. In the 1990s, the stork population of Germany increased, and the German at-home birth rate rose as well. Shall we credit storks for airlifting the babies?

Physicians use many tests to determine the risk of dying early. Got coronary artery disease? Abnormal cholesterol or high blood pressure (hypertension)? You may have a higher risk of early mortality.

But a new study suggests that it may be even riskier for survival if you cannot complete the ten-second one-leg standing test.

Balance and aging

Many of us do not think about balance until we fall. Did you know that balance begins to decline between ages 40 to 50 years? Or that one in three individuals over age 65 suffer a fall yearly?

In the Harvard Health Letter, writers explain that balance is “the ability to distribute your weight that allows you to stand or move without falling, or recover if you trip.”

To balance well, we need to coordinate several body parts, including the inner ear, muscles, eyes, joints, bones, and central nervous system. Problems with any of these can affect your balance.

Medical conditions can also affect balance. For example, conditions impacting balance include:

  • Central nervous system disorders: Parkinson’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and others
  • Inner ear conditions: Ménière’s disease is an example of a condition that can cause dizziness and vertigo
  • Conditions causing vision distortion: Examples include glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration
  • Problems causing weakness in major muscles (especially in the back, abdomen, or thighs)
  • Nerve damage in the legs and feet (peripheral neuropathy) can cause us trouble sensing the ground on which we stand or walk.

Other contributors to imbalance include medications (ranging from pain medicines to anxiety medications; others include sleeping pills, antihistamines, and some heart and blood pressure medicines).

Finally, alcohol can affect balance, coordination, and reaction time. Here’s a reminder of the influence of alcohol consumption on balance:How Booze Screws Up Your BalanceMedia Platforms Design Team Sure, you knew it did a number on your liver, not to mention your waistline. But heavy…www.menshealth.com

The Stork Test: Predicting Early Mortality

Researchers from Rio de Janeiro recently reported the results of a study of over 1,700 subjects. The research participants ranged in age from 51 to 75 years (average 61 years), with two-thirds being men.

2Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

The researchers asked individuals to stand on one leg, with the front of the free leg resting on the back of the opposite leg. The subjects’ arms dangled by their sides as the subjects gazed straight ahead.

Each subject had up to three chances and could use either leg. Here are the results: About one in five could not complete the task. The stand-on-one-leg failure rate increased with age:

Age 51 to 55 — Five percent failed

Age 56 to 60 — Eight percent failed

Age 61 to 65 — 18 percent failed

Age 66 to 70 — 37 percent failed

Age 71 to 75 — 54 percent failed

After adjusting for age, sex, and underlying health,

The inability to balance on one leg for ten seconds appeared associated with an 84 percent heightened risk of dying over a median follow-up time of seven years.

The Stork test: Practical observations

Writing on Healthline.com, Dr. Anat Lubetzky of the New York University Department of Physical Therapy offers that “balance should be included when [caregivers] check for vital signs. Balance is one indicator of general health.

Dr. Lubetzky gives us some practical guidance, explaining that “typically, a person in their 50s should be able to balance on one leg for around 40 seconds. Someone in their 60s is looking at 20 seconds, and someone in their 70s is around ten seconds.”

The study illustrates an association between balance troubles and early mortality; however, the research does not establish a causal relationship.

Among those that failed the balance test, there appeared to be a higher proportion of individuals with heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), or unhealthy blood fat profiles. Moreover, the poor balance group had triple the rate of diabetes.

Did you try the Stork test (One tip: Gaze at a fixed point in the distance)? If so, how did you fare? Thank you for joining me in this look at balance, the so-called Stork test, and health. Oh, one more thing:

Improving your balance

Easy ways to improve your balance:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/easy-ways-to-improve-your-balance

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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