Sense of balance tends to deteriorate as you get older and this can cause you to lose self-confidence for many reasons. A stooping posture can negatively affect self-esteem, for example. Research also suggests balance can influence your life expectancy.
Dr Michael Mosley cited a study on his BBC podcast Just One Thing with Michael Mosley that found a “clear relationship” between how long people in their 50s could stand on one leg with their eyes closed and whether they would be alive 13 years years later.
The Medical Research Council tracked 5,000 people born in 1946 throughout their lives.
At the age of 53, they completed the tests during home visits from specially trained nurses.
In the standing on one leg with eyes closed test, men and women who were able to hold the position for less than two seconds were three times more likely to die before the age of 66 than those who could hold it for 10 seconds or more.
Those unable to do the test at all were more likely to die in the following 13 years.
Dr Rachel Cooper at the Medical Research Council said: “The majority of these studies are done in older people but we have shown that even in this younger age group, where you would not expect pre-existing disease, we are still seeing these measures are picking up some underlying ageing and disease process.”
Drilling down further into the possible explanations for this association, Dr Mosley spoke to Professor Dawn Skelton at Glasgow Caledonian University.
One possible explanation is that people are more prone to falling, incurring serious injuries, Dr Skelton said.
A more likely explanation is that it could be a symptom of a more serious disruption in the body.
According to Dr Skelton, it could be a sign the brain is not communicating with the rest of the body.
There is also some suggestion that improving your balance can improve your life expectancy and overall health.
“If you can improve your balance, it can make a big difference to the prevention of hip fracture,” she said.
What’s more, there is some suggestion that improved balance helps cognition and prevents and slows the chance of getting dementia, Dr Skelton said.
Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning.
How do I assess my balance? You should first practice standing on one leg, advised Dr Mosley.
“Standing one leg with your eyes closed can be harder,” he noted.
“If you’re doing more than 10 seconds you’re doing well.”
You can also practice balance exercises to improve your balance.
“Do not worry if you have not done much exercise for a while, these balance exercises are gentle and easy to follow,” says the NHS.
Try to do these exercises at least twice a week and combine them with the other routines in this series:
- Sitting exercises
- Flexibility exercises
- Strength exercises.