According to the study, people who aren’t able to stay balanced on one leg for longer than 20 seconds should consider further evaluation from a doctor. The reason is that imbalance strongly correlates with the presence of tiny lesions, or “microbleeds”, in the brain, which can be there even when you’re otherwise feeling healthy. Over time these microbleeds can lead to serious issues such as stroke and dementia.
The study assessed 1387 adults, average age 67, all of whom were in good overall health. Everyone in the study performed the test twice and their best times were recorded. The participants were then given an MRI brain scan to identify any abnormalities in brain tissue.
The results showed a straight line correlation between inability to balance for at least 20 seconds and the occurrence of microbleeds and other forms of tissue damage in the brain. While only 10% of people who couldn’t hold balance for 20 seconds showed no signs of microbleeds, 30% with two or more microbleeds had trouble balancing. The same held true for another type of tissue damage called a “lacunar infarction lesion” – less than 10% of those who couldn’t balance showed no lesions, but almost 35% who failed the test had two or more lesions.
These results were consistent even after other factors such as blood pressure, age, and arterial health were controlled for.
Dr. Yasuharu Tabara of the Center for Genomic Medicine, Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine, who led the study, commented:
“Our study found that the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health. Individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline.”
The researchers also examined a possible link between the balancing test and cognitive ability (such as thought processing speed and memory) and found that an inability to hold balance for 20 seconds correlates with “reduced cognitive function” independent of other factors.
The takeaway: try the test, and if you can’t pass it, schedule a visit with your doctor. It may help identify and prevent serious issues later on.
The study was published in the American Heart Association ’s journal Stroke.