Longer Life Means Having a Leg to Stand On

24 Jun, 2022 Bob Wilson


Another cutting-edge health study has been published, and unlike so many we have generally lampooned here in the past, this one may have some merit when it comes to determining the condition of one’s health. Researchers publishing their findings in the British Journal of Sports Medicine report that middle-aged people who can’t stand on one leg for at least 10 seconds appear to be at higher risk of dying within a decade. 

They reported that people who “struggled with the simple balancing test were 84% more likely to die in the next 10 years than those who could stand unsupported, after taking into account variables like age and illness.” Study participants “were asked to lift one foot and place it behind the opposite lower leg -- without touching the ground -- while keeping their arms at their sides and looking forward.” They had to maintain that position for at least 10 seconds. They were allowed three attempts. One-in-five reportedly failed the test.

They found the proportion of deaths among people who failed the test was significantly higher. 17.5% of those who failed died, while only 4.5% of those who passed the test met the same fate. The project studied 1,702 people over the age of 50 in Brazil, starting in 2009. 

I’m not sure who thought of the premise of this study, or where you find 1,702 people willing to stand on one foot while a stranger studies the aftermath of their efforts. I’m not certain, but it sounds like some researchers found a reason for numerous extended trips in Brazil. The report does not say when the subjects died, but we can assume it was during the 10-year timeframe used to define the project. 

We also do not know specifically where the study was conducted. That could certainly make a big difference. If it was done at the edge of a high cliff or tall building, that could skew the results significantly. If it was in a bar, say during Carnival, that could also affect outcomes. Those participants unable to maintain their balance might have staggered out into traffic immediately after the test. 

The researchers who conducted this test were from Brazil, Finland, Australia, the UK and the US. That is a lot of government grant money. We do have questions about the number of people needed to stand around to see if middle aged people standing on one leg are going to fall on their arse. I suspect some side-betting was involved. 

Still, good information came out of this somewhat ludicrous sounding study. Researchers pointed out that adding a balance component to routine physical exams for older people could provide doctors with important health information. They said more than 680,000 people die each year from falls around the world, and this 10 second test can be used to help identify those who may be vulnerable. Doctors may not be able to prevent them from ultimately falling someday, but at least they would know to get their fee up front.

I also suspect failing the test may be indicative of other health problems, circulatory and otherwise. 

How could this information be used to help control workers’ compensation costs? Simple. It could easily be incorporated into hiring practices by higher risk employers. Interviewers and recruiters have long been prevented from asking about an applicant’s health, but I doubt there is a restriction barring the request to stand on one foot for 10 seconds. Just don’t tell them the real reason, and you’ll be fine. Trust me.

Oh, and I also know one other thing. Posts in this blog generally get read about 1,000 times within 24 hours of publication. That means in that time about 1,000 people will push away from their desk or stand up from their couch to see if they can stand on one leg for more than 10 seconds. I certainly did, and I am happy to report that statistically speaking I will be around to blog for at least another decade (just not here – more on that next week).

One note; if you are a roofer or a high-steel worker who just happens to be reading this on your phone, don’t try this just yet. You may have a leg to stand on, but you really don’t want to.

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