COLORADO SPRINGS — In this Your Healthy Family, we’re asking if you can balance on one leg for 10 seconds? If you can according to a recent study, chances are you will live longer. But before you start making long-term retirement plans give it a try. You may find it a bit more challenging than it sounds.
Dr. Wendy Day, an internal medicine physician with UCHealth’s Chapel Hills Primary Care Clinic who did not take part in the study, but tells me in general, “Balance is important to over health. It has to do specifically with fall risk, which we in the medical field know has to do with mortality in general. Baby boomers are growing older and we have a huge population of folks at risk for this.”
If you want to try this at home, Dr. Day says, “You’re going to stand with your feet flat on the floor, pick a foot, it doesn’t matter which one, and then raise your other foot and put it behind your knee and hold your arms to your sides.”
But exactly how does a person’s ability to balance tie into a statistical chance of living longer? Dr. Day say’s poor balance leads to a higher fall risk, and “When people fall, all kinds of bad things happen. Fractures, osteoporotic fractures, spinal fractures, and hip fractures, which result in hospitalization. With hospitalization, all kinds of things can happen, like heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia. Pain medications can cause confusion, which can increase the risk of pneumonia, and then the outcomes are not always as good as we want and more people are likely to need to be in skilled nursing facilities for recovery, and may never fully recover.”
So at what age should you begin to pay attention to your ability to balance well? Dr. Day says,
“The study in question looked specifically at that. They looked at a very simple test, which is the single foot stand test I talked about. They looked specifically at 7,800 people, and how that did at this test looking at specific age distributions that were anywhere from 50 to 75. What they found is that things really started to go downhill around age 60. So there is little risk, in the 50 to 60 age range it's under 10%. And then it started going up and interestingly enough 54% of people in the 70 to 75 year old age range failed the (stand) test.”
So, if you want to live longer, Dr. Day says you don’t need to overthink it, when it comes to improving your balance - at any age. “It's a lot simpler than people think. Number one, you can exercise and this is where we have all kinds of data that shows exercise helps cardiovascular health and when it comes to balance you can do simple things like yoga, tai chi, dancing. I’m talking about fun things and really any type of movement that is side to side mobility is really helpful for balance. Strength training and regular aerobic exercise also helps. It's not quite as good for balance as side to side movements, but it's still good and these are things that can absolutely be fun.”
If you have questions about how balance and your overall health are related, or to learn about improving your balance, a conversation with your primary care doctor is a great place to start.
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