A sensible approach for improving your performance—AND your longevity
At your annual physical exam, your doctor probably checks your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol. But really—they should give you a new, 10-second longevity test, as it’s much more telling about your life expectancy.
It doesn’t require a blood draw or special medical equipment. And you can even assess YOURSELF—in the privacy of your own home!
Now, if you can’t pass this 10-second test—it may mean you have almost DOUBLE the risk of suffering an early death.
As grim as that may sound, there IS some good news…
Even if you fail the test on your first try, your results aren’t set in stone. You can dramatically improve your performance—and your longevity—with just a few minutes of practice each day.
I’ll explain it all in just a moment. Then, I’ll even disclose how you can revamp certain areas of your daily routine to further extend your life expectancy…
The longevity predictor you’ve
never heard of
As two-legged creatures, humans rely on equilibrioception. This is basically a good sense of balance to perform just about any type of physical activity—including walking, sitting, and standing.
Clearly, having good balance is essential to maintaining an active, independent lifestyle. And it’s key for avoiding falls, the No. 1 cause of injury and death (from injury) among older adults.1
But good balance is highly underrated—even ignored—by mainstream medical practitioners.
And as I mentioned above, your doctor is much more likely to hound you about your cholesterol or salt intake than check your balance at your annual check-up.
But that’s a HUGE mistake. Because prioritizing the wrong things could set you up for an early death.
In a brand-new, eye-opening study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers looked closely at the connection between balance and death risk in nearly 2,000 men and women between the ages 51 and 75.
First, they asked the participants to stand on one leg for 10 seconds WITHOUT holding onto anything to support themselves. (They also had to keep their arms at their sides and keep their gaze fixed straight ahead.)
Researchers recorded the results and continued tracking the men and women for an average of seven years.
Overall, about 20 percent of the participants FAILED the initial balance test. And as you might expect, performance declined with age.
Not only that, but the folks who failed the test had nearly DOUBLE the risk of DYING during the seven-year follow-up period.
And even after the researchers accounted for other factors that could have influenced outcomes—such as age, body mass index (BMI), and high blood pressure—people who failed the balance test still had an 84 percent higher risk of dying within 10 years.
It seems that checking for balance, even for those few seconds, can serve as a valuable tool for assessing fall risk… and even mortality risk!
As the lead researcher said in an interview, “Remember that we regularly need to stay in a one-legged posture, to move out of a car, to climb or descend a step or stair and so on.”
So if YOU feel unsteady completing any of those daily activities, you’ll likely run a much higher risk of falling—and, sadly, one of those falls might just be lethal.
Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, it’s never too late to improve your balance. And just a couple of minutes of practice a day can make a HUGE difference…
Follow this minutes-a-day
I recommend everyone, even those who CAN pass the 10-second test, take a few minutes every day to work on their balance.
Here are a few, easy exercises to try:
Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth. This activity involves “habit stacking”—where you “stack” a new, healthy behavior on top of one already incorporated into your routine. You should do it barefoot and practice standing on both the left and the right leg. Practice keeping your balance back and forth until you’re done brushing.3
Walk the tightrope. Once a day, practice walking on an imaginary tightrope on the floor in your home. Just walk heel to toe very slowly, with your arms extended out from your sides, for about 10 feet. Then, turn around and walk back the same way. You can also walk alongside a partner, a long piece of furniture, or a wall for support if you need it.4
Sit without flopping. A lot of older adults allow themselves to “flop” (or fall) into their favorite recliner. But this doesn’t engage your core muscles, which are essential for good balance. Instead, practice sitting in—and standing from—a chair without flopping. Even if you begin by using your hands for support, you’ll still engage your core muscles!
Get in some high kicks. Another activity that engages your core involves walking while alternating knee lifts with each step. But—be sure to take this one slowly. And do it with a partner or support furniture, if needed.
Try Tai Chi. There’s a reason why Tai Chi, sometimes called “shadowboxing,” is popular among older adults all around the world. Research shows it’s highly effective in preventing falls and improving balance, muscle strength, proprioception (your perception of your body in space), and endurance. So, consider taking an in-person class for beginners—or find an online class to follow on YouTube.
I encourage you to try any, all, or a mixture of the above steps. And remember, even if you can’t do much at first, keep practicing!
Of course, if you continue having trouble executing these simple activities at home, you may want to see a physical therapist to help build the strength in your legs and arms.
You might also consider upgrading your dietary regimen to further enhance your performance…
Revisit your nutritional needs
In a big, new meta-analysis of 38 previously published clinical trials, researchers looked at the effect of vitamin D supplementation on stability in about 61,000 adults ages 50 and older.5
It turns out, people who supplemented with just 17.5 to 50 mcg (700 to 2,000 IU) of vitamin D had a 13 percent lower fall risk compared to those who didn’t.
And as you know, many studies suggest taking much higher doses than that. So just imagine the improvement you might experience with taking 250 mcg (10,000 IU) daily—the amount I take and recommend.
In addition to boosting your intake of vitamin D, I also encourage older folks to eat more protein. This will help you build and maintain muscle, balance, and stability. In fact, studies show eating more protein can even help reduce your odds of falling by upwards of 20 percent!
Just remember, you probably need a lot more daily protein than you realize. In fact, according to the current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), a 150-pound person should consume just 54 grams of protein per day.
But nearly ALL of the recent research on protein indicates that amount is FAR TOO LOW. That’s why I recommend one gram of protein per pound you weigh. And if you’re trying to gain weight or build muscle, I typically even recommend twice that amount.
Of course, many people find it hard to reach that daily target, which is why I recommend adding a whey protein shake. This is an easy—and tasty—way to add 20 or more grams of protein to your daily total.
Look for a whey protein product that has eight grams of carbs or less per serving. Then, only ever mix it with plain water. If you like a thicker consistency, add some ice cubes and mix it up in a blender. You can even add a tablespoon of macadamia nut oil for a healthy boost of monounsaturated fatty acids (this little trick will also keep you fuller, longer).
Now, let’s move on to some final common factors that greatly impact balance in older adults…
Too much of a BAD thing
Many common prescription drugs on the market can cause balance and stability problems. And polypharmacy—where someone takes multiple prescription drugs—is particularly problematic as one gets older.
Some of the worst drugs known to cause dizziness and an unsteady gait (walking pattern) are:6
- Benzodiazepines (for anxiety and insomnia)
- Muscle relaxants
- Prescription opioids
In addition, drugs used to treat high blood sugar and high blood pressure can also cause dizziness and falls—especially among older people.
This can happen when a doctor doesn’t lower drug dosages as their patient improves or grows older, leading to episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hypotension (low blood pressure)… as well as light-headedness and falls.
This scenario occurs commonly among older people, as the liver and kidneys don’t process and “detox” the drugs as quickly as they once did.
That’s why I always review my patient’s prescription drugs—at every visit—as well as any side effects they may be experiencing. I encourage you to do the same with your healthcare provider. Because even when taken as directed, prescription medications can become a dangerous storm for older adults.
You should also make sure to have your eyes regularly checked, as undiagnosed eyesight problems or outdated glasses prescriptions can contribute to balance problems and falls.
Likewise, if you suffer from intermittent dizziness or vertigo, have a doctor check your ears. Many older adults suffer from something called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), where small crystals in the inner ear become dislodged, causing the brain to receive the wrong signals and make you feel dizzy.
You can easily treat this condition with a special series of movements to get the crystals back in place. Even impacted earwax can cause dizziness, as the inner ear plays a key role in our ability to maintain our balance.
The bottom line? Maintaining good balance is important to your overall health and longevity. And as various research shows, you can improve your ability to hold a “tree pose” or stand on one foot with some daily practice, dietary changes, and healthy lifestyle habits.
“Falls are leading cause of injury and death in older Americans.” US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9/22/16. (cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0922-older-adult-falls.html)
“Successful 10-second one-legged stance performance predicts survival in middle-aged and older individuals.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 2022; 56:975-980. doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2021-105360
- “How a 10-Second Balance Test May Help Older Adults Predict Longevity.” Health, 6/27/22. (health.com/news/10-second-balance-test-longevity)
- “Balance training.” WebMD, 11/23/20. (webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/balance-training)
- “Association Between Vitamin D Supplementation and Fall Prevention.” Frontiers Endocrinology, 2022; 13. doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2022.919839
- “Risk of fall-related injury and all-cause hospitalization of select concomitant central nervous system medication prescribing in older adult persistent opioid users: A case-time-control analysis.” Pharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy, 2021; 41(9): 733-742. doi.org/10.1002/phar.2612