“When Will You Die” Part 3: Balance

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Perhaps even more than the first two parts of our 3-part series, the third and final indicators of mortality we find are most interesting and will surprise you may seem easy as pie (no pun!).  Don’t be fooled by the amount of flexibility, strength and balance required to do the following two movements discussed today: SRT and balancing on one leg.

If you missed the first two articles about mortality indicators, or more positively put, how you can beat the odds they are here: Part 1 and Part 2.  Our definition of longevity is explored as is the methodology we’ve determined that 40% of our risk is in our own hands (no pun). All indicators are important so if you are struggling with one or two, that’s your homework for now!

Try this out.  Literally, right now.  Stop reading and follow these directions:

  1. Stand up.
  2. Cross your feet.
  3. Sit down.
  4. Get back up.

How did you do? Did you save yourself six years?

The Sit and Rise Test (SRT)

The Why:

The ability to get on and off the floor without the use of your hands has been proven as a lead indicator of mortality. In one study performed in Brazil by Dr. Claudio Gil Soares de Araujo and a team of Brazilian researchers, 2002 men and women ages 51 to 80 were followed for an average of 6.3 years. Those who needed to use both hands and knees to get up and down (whether they were middle aged or elderly) were almost seven times more likely to die within six years than those who could spring up and down without support. Their musculoskeletal fitness, as indicated by this test, was severely lacking.

The results were published in the European Journal of Cardiologyand the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention in 2012. It was even a feature on the “Today Show” in May of this year.

The test proved to be a predictor of how long you will live – or not.

“It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival,” according to author Claudio Gil Soares de Araujo, Professor at Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeriro. He continues, “but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, and coordination also has a favorable influence on life expectancy.”

It’s an inexpensive and quick test: simply ask someone to get on the floor, stand and get back down. While that may sound simple, for many it is not.


Dr. Araujo adds, “if a middle-aged or older man or woman can sit and rise from the floor using just one hand – or even better without the help of a hand – they are not only in the higher quartile of musculo-skeletal fitness but their survival prognosis is probably better than those unable to do so.”

Not only does it show you about your strength, mobility and flexibility, but more importantly for the aging, it tells you if you will be able to reach down to the floor to pick up something important like the keys you dropped, eyeglasses or even a pencil.

The fix:

Use two hands at first to stand up. Or, even use the help of a step, a couch, a stretch strap tied securely around to help you get up. Then, progress to use just one hand. Once you gain the ability to sit and stand without the use of your hands, the possibilities are endless: hip mobility, leg and core strength, and the freedom of knowing you are independent.

Balance on One-Leg Test

We have one more for you to try now.  Pause your reading and . . .

  1. Stand.
  2. With eyes opened, lift up one leg.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds.

How did you do?

The Why:

This simple test was proven to be another key indicator of early mortality. “Our study found the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health,” says Dr. Yasuharu Tabara, associate professor of genomic medicine at Kyoto University, Japan, who led the research.

When Dr. Tabara asked each participant to balance on one leg (eyes open) for 20 seconds or longer, he found those who could not were at a greater risk for small blood vessel damage in the brain and reduced cognitive function in otherwise healthy people with no clinical symptoms, according to the research in the American Heart Association’s Stroke magazine.



His study consisted of 841 women and 546 men, average age of 67. Cerebral small vessel disease was assessed using MRI technology. The inability to balance on one leg for longer than 20 seconds was associated with cerebral small vessel disease. Overall, those with cerebral diseases were older, had high blood pressure and had thicker carotid arteries than those who did not have cerebral small vessel disease. Yet, even after adjusting for those conditions, people who had shorter one-legged standing times also had small vessel disease. Lower cognitive scores were also examined and linked with short one-legged standing times.

Dr. Tabara is on the cutting edge of medical research with this study as this is the first study to investigate how long a person can stand on one leg as an indicator of brain health.

The Fix:

Even if you are just starting out, and require the use of a counter top or wall, it’s never to late to practice standing on one leg. Not only will you decrease your chances of cardiovascular disease, but you will also work all of those muscles in your feet, legs, and yes even your core. You just can’t go wrong with one-leg work.

Posture is important so your whole body is in alignment. Place your feet under your hips with your toes pointed forwarded and squeeze your bottom.  Now that your posture is correct, can you lift of foot off the group and hold for 20 sec. If you can’t, then hold onto a counter.  Again focusing on correct posture.  And practice, practice, practice.  Just like learning a new skill like golf, tennis or rowing doesn’t happen in a few weeks, this takes practice, or what we call “training”. This an easy one to do anywhere and at any time.  On the conference call, waiting in line at the grocery store.  What a great challenge for the New Year…20 seconds on each leg!

In summary, each one of these indicators is important. If you are struggling with one or two, then work just one or two as your homework for now!

  1. Waist to Height Ratio (WtHR)
  2. Grip Strength
  3. Consistent Exercise
  4. Sit Stand Test (SST)
  5. Balance on One Leg

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