The ability to complete a 10-second one-legged stance (10-second OLS) is associated with all-cause mortality and adds relevant prognostic information beyond age, sex and several other anthropometric and clinical variables, new research shows.

The study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found 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.

Further reading:

The authors say that there is potential benefit to including the 10-s OLS as part of routine physical examination in middle-aged and older adults.

The study used 1,702 participants from the CLINIMEX Exercise cohort study which was set up in 1994 to assess associations between various measures of physical fitness, exercise- related variables, and conventional cardiovascular risk factors, with ill health and death. 

The participants, who were were aged 51–75 (average of 61) at their first check up, were asked to place the front of the free foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, while keeping their arms by their sides and their gaze fixed straight ahead. Up to three attempts on either foot were permitted.

Researchers found that one in five participants failed to pass the test and this rose with age. Those aged 71–75 years were more than 11 times (around 54%) as likely to fail the test as those just 20 years younger. 

A higher proportion of those who failed the test were obese, and/or had heart disease, high blood pressure, and unhealthy blood fat profiles. Type 2 diabetes was three times as common in this group.. 

Balance assessment isn’t routinely included in health checks

Balance assessment isn’t routinely included in health checks of middle-aged and older men and women, possibly because there isn’t any standardised test for it, and there are few hard data linking it to clinical outcomes other than falls, they add.

The researchers therefore wanted to find out whether a balance test might be a reliable indicator of a person’s risk of death from any cause within the next decade, and, as such, might therefore merit inclusion in routine health checks in later life.

During an average monitoring period of 7 years, 123 (7%) people died: cancer (32%); cardiovascular disease (30%); respiratory disease (9%); and Covid-19 complications (7%).

There were no clear temporal trends in the deaths, or differences in the causes, between those able to complete the test and those who weren’t able to do so. 

But the proportion of deaths among those who failed the test was significantly higher: 17.5% vs 4.5%, reflecting an absolute difference of just under 13%.

After accounting for age, sex, and underlying conditions, an inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds was associated with an 84% heightened risk of death from any cause within the next decade.