The research team, led by scientists from the Clinimex Exercise Medicine Clinic in Brazil, looked at 1702 older Brazilian adults, aged 51-75, to see if balance might help predict health outcomes over time.
Participants were asked to complete a basic balance test of standing on one leg for 10 seconds, without using their hands or leaning on an object for support.
The researchers found that participants who couldn’t complete the test were 84% more likely to die of any cause during the next 10 years of follow-up than those who could balance. And participants were less likely to complete the test as they aged, with 5% of people in their early 50s failing the tested, compared to 54% in their early to mid 70s. The study is observational, so while it found a link between balance and risk of early death, it doesn’t explain what may be causing the risk.
It also didn’t account for other factors, including diet and exercise habits, recent falls, tobacco use, or medications that may affect balance. Participants who couldn’t pass the balance test tended to have worse health overall, with higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes than their better-balanced peers. Still, balance tests could be a convenient, inexpensive way to flag health risks, combined with other routine medical testing, the researchers concluded. Balance is an important component of overall fitness along with aerobic endurance, muscular strength, and mobility.