Health & Fitness

Why You Need Good Balance in Midlife and Beyond

March 21, 2016

Have you seen an article in your facebook feed telling you that a simple sitting test can predict how long you’ll live? Unlike so many of the Facebook tests you find in your feed, this one, believe it or not, has some validity. So let’s see how long we have left, shall we?

The test itself is fairly simple.

  1. Stand in comfortable clothes in your bare feet, with clear space around you.
  2. Without leaning on anything, lower yourself to a sitting position on the floor.
  3. Now stand back up, trying not to use your hands, knees, forearms or sides of your legs.

Ready to score yourself?

  • Start by giving yourself 10 points (good job you!)
  • Did you have to put your hand on the floor? Subtract one point
  • Did you have to use your knee for support? Subtract one point
  • Forearm? That’s one point gone.
  • One hand on knee or thigh? Yet another point off your score.
  • Side of the leg? You guessed it, one point gone.

Round up to zero, if necessary.

My score was an OK-I-Guess 8. I had to put my hand down and use the side of my leg. I honestly do not see how you could get up without using the side of your leg. But I didn’t just spring down and spring up. To get my 8, I had to put thought into it. If I were just getting up from the floor without being graded, I would have probably rolled over onto my hands and knees and then grabbed the ottoman for support. My balance needs work.

In general, I’m against the “You’re Going to Diiiiiieeee!” talk that’s so frequently associated with articles like this. According to the Discover article I read:

In a study published in the European Journal of Cardiology, Araujo had more than 2,000 patients ages 51 to 80, all part of an exercise program at Clinimex Exercise Medicine Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, take the SRT. People who scored fewer than eight points on the test, he found, were twice as likely to die within the next six years compared with those who scored higher; those who scored three or fewer points were more than five times as likely to die within the same period compared with those who scored more than eight points.

Let’s put that in a bit of perspective. At my age, I have a .004 chance of dying this year. Two times that is .008, which gives me the same odds of dying as a woman ten years older. That is actually a little disturbing. Five times .004 is .02 which puts my odds of dying roughly equal to a 74-year-old woman.

There’s a reason for this. Losing the ability to balance is one of the first signs of aging. According to the book Spring Chicken by Bill Gifford (which is an excellent read for anyone wishing to postpone the worst effects of aging):

As our balance weakens, we compensate by widening our stance, so to speak, placing our feet farther apart so as to provide a more stable platform. But this wider stance, in turn, makes walking and running much less efficient than our narrow, youthful stride. This, in part, is why older people seem to shuffle along, even when they are trying to run. As a result, we waste energy, and slow down even more. This is ultimately why walking speed – and walking efficiency are so important, Ferrucci thinks. They are a sign of, basically, how much gas we have left in the tank.

I’m reminded of a trip I took to New York last year with my daughter where she confidently bounded over the snow and icy spots and I shuffled along, convinced I was going to fall any second. 

But what happens when you have no more gas in the tank? It isn’t pretty. According to Bill Giffords:

When we run out of gas completely, we reach a state called frailty, one of the end stages of aging. It doesn’t refer to just fragility, but rather to a state of weakness and exhaustion, often characterized by slowness, low levels of activity, and unintentional weight loss. You waste away, basically, and at that point, it doesn’t take much to push you over the edge.

Any of us who have ever had a relative take a small fall, break a hip, and die should feel a chill about now. I certainly felt one when I read this. 

So, maintaining (or improving!) your balance is important. And if your balance isn’t great, what are some good ways to improve it? Wednesday’s post offers some tips for improving your balance.

 

2 Comments

  • Reply Sara Resident Yogi March 13, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Research has shown that foot massage can improve balance. Standing on a tennis ball is a great way to massage your feet.

  • Reply 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Balance in Midlife - Midlife Rambler March 23, 2016 at 6:57 am

    […] On Monday, we talked here on the blog about how important it is to maintain your balance as you age and an easy way to test how good your balance is right now. Did you see room for improvement? I know I did. Here are five simple ways we can work on improving our balance. […]

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