Are you well balanced?
Improving fitness is often on the agenda coming out of the silly season as we try to work off the extra food and drinks that usually happen around this time of year. One part of physical fitness that is often overlooked is balance. A 2014 study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) investigated 3 commonly used tests and assessed how they relate to all-cause mortality, those tests being grip strength, chair rise speed and single leg balance. They found that having good balance was a powerful predictor of how long and healthily you will live.
A good way to test your balance is to grab a timer or open the stopwatch app on your phone, take your shoes off and put your hands on your hips. Firstly record how long you can stand on one leg for. The test is over if you shift your standing foot or have to put your other foot down to the ground. Give it three goes and record your best time. After that, repeat the same test but with your eyes closed, you'll be surprised how much more difficult it is!
Under 40: 45 seconds with eyes open, 15 seconds with eyes closed.
Age 40-49: 42 seconds eyes open, 13 seconds eyes closed.
Age 50-59: 41 seconds eyes open, 8 seconds eyes closed
Aged 60-69: 32 seconds eyes open, 4 seconds eyes closed
Aged 70-79: 22 seconds eyes open, 3 seconds eyes closed
Looking back at the 2014 BMJ study will tell us how much this actually matters. What the researchers did was assess 2766 people (1355 male, 1411 female) all aged 53 in their balance, grip and chair rise speed then follow up with them 13 years later. They found that of the group who were unable to stand on one leg at all, 1 in 3 did not make it to 66!
The reason standing balance is such an effective test is not just because of the physical demands, but also just how demanding it is of your brain to stay upright. Normally how you balance is with contributions from your eyes, your inner ear, and the sensations from your limbs telling you where you are in space. Particularly as we get older, we rely more and more on our vision in order to balance, so our brain has to work extra hard if we shut our eyes in this test.
Dont fret! It's not the end if you don't get a fantastic result on the test. These things can be practiced and improved with a bit of work. Yoga or tai chi are great ways to practice, or you could have a look at some examples from the British NHS.
For a tailored balance program, come and see one of us at physiopoint and we would be happy to test you out and keep you upright.