It seems like a fairly simple challenge: sit on the floor and get back up without the help of hands or knees. However, give it a try and you will discover that it is not as easy as it seems.
This sitting-up exercise was devised to predict mortality in middle-aged and elderly people by a team led by a researcher from Brazil, Claudio Gil Araújo. Since its publication in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention in 2012, it has regularly surfaced in the media and every time it happens, it causes widespread alarm among people who cannot get up. If you find yourself among them, continue reading (and don’t despair).
This same researcher published another study this week with another much more affordable test: balance on one leg for a minimum of ten seconds. Being unable to do so is linked to nearly twice the risk of death from any cause in the next decade, according to Araujo’s research, which argues that aging brings a decline in fitness, muscle strength and flexibility, but balance tends to keep reasonably well until age 50.
The single leg balance test
The researchers told the participants to place the front of their free foot behind their standing leg, keep their arms at their sides and gaze straight ahead. Up to three attempts on either foot were allowed.
Being able to balance on one leg is a reflection of broader levels of fitness and health, said study author Araújo, of the Exercise Medicine Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“We regularly need a one-legged stance, to get out of a car, to go up or down a step or staircase, etc. Not having this ability or being afraid to do so is likely to be related to loss of autonomy and, in consequently, less exercise and the snowball begins,” explained this expert. A 2019 study showed that the number of deaths from falls among people aged 75 and over is on the rise in the US.
Get up off the ground without using hands or knees
The test consists of going down to the ground, in the form of a cross, without leaning on the hands, knees, arms or the sides of the legs. If you can get back on your feet, again without the help of those body parts, you will have scored a 10 (five points for sitting, five points for standing). You lose a point each time you lean on a forbidden joint or appendage.
“It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival, but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscular strength, power-to-body-weight ratio, and coordination is not only good for performing daily activities, but has a favorable influence on life expectancy,” Araújo said in a press release launching the study.
The test is certainly a good measure of leg and core strength, as well as balance. Older adults who have that muscular strength and flexibility are less likely to fall.
What if you can’t do it? early death? Exercise serves as a method to detect muscle loss of an individual in the aging process, known as sarcopenia, said Greg Hartley, president of the Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy and an assistant professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. That decrease leads to other mobility problems, which decreases the quality of life.
“Frailty, strength, muscle mass, physical performance… all of those aspects are correlated with mortality, but I warn everyone that correlation does not mean causation,” Hartley told The Washington Post. “For example, if someone has a really bad knee and there’s no way he can get tested, just because that person has a really bad knee doesn’t mean he’s going to die soon,” Hartley said.
The good news is that, barring complications like arthritis, you can work on it, and you’ll probably get better over time.
How many push-ups are you able to do?
A 2019 study from the Harvard School of Public Health measured the health data and push-up ability of 1,104 active, middle-aged male firefighters over the course of 10 years. Men who could complete 40 push-ups had a 96% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who could do fewer than 10 push-ups. Another aspect that can be trained.
Walking speed is highly correlated with mortality. Walking at a brisk pace reduces the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks or strokes, according to a study from the University of Sydney. Compared with people who walked slowly, those who walked at a medium pace had a 20% lower risk of premature death from any cause, and a 24% lower risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.
For their part, those who said they walked faster had a 24% lower risk of suffering a premature death from any cause and a 21% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases.
The study indicates that the beneficial effects of fast walking were seen more intensely in the older age groups. For example, average speed walkers aged 60 and over had a 46% reduced risk of cardiovascular death, rising to 53% for fast walkers. Compared to those who walked at a slow pace, brisk walkers between the ages of 45 and 59 had a 36% lower risk of premature death from any cause.
Doctors also sometimes use a hand dynamometer to assess grip strength and can learn a lot about our risk of death from it. One study showed that every 11-pound decrease in grip strength is linked to a 16% increased risk of dying from any cause, including heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.
The biggest impact on grip strength has to do with how fit you were in youth and middle age.