Failing the “Flamingo Test” Predictor of Mortality

Preserving good physical function in older age can promote greater independence and engagement, and muscle strength, flexibility, and balance help to prevent falls that lead to injury.  Poor balance can also be a health warning, according to a recent study that used the “flamingo test” to predict the risk of dying within 7 years among middle-aged and older adults. 

According to Healthing Health News, a new study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that participants who were not able to stand on one leg, with their head upright and arms straight at their sides had an increased risk of dying within seven years.   Researchers used data from 1,702 Brazilian participants between the ages of 51 and 75, tracking their health for a period of seven years, on average.  The study showed that 20 percent of participants were unable to complete the balance test, and results were poorer among older adults.  

Among participants between 51 and 55, only 5 percent failed the balance test but 54 percent of those aged 71 to 75 could not balance on one leg for the full 10 seconds.  Researchers calculated that people who failed the flamingo test had an 84 percent greater risk of all-cause mortality.   People who failed the test were also more likely to be overweight and were three times more likely to have diabetes. 

Balance is something we use frequently in everyday activities like climbing a step-ladder, getting in and out of the car, walking down the stairs, or getting into the bathtub.  When the ability to balance is impaired, the risk for falls increases, and older adults who become afraid of activities that involve balance may find they are less able to get regular exercise or stay socially connected. 

The good news is that balance can be improved with practice.   A daily yoga or Tai Chi practice can help promote good balance, increasing stability and confidence while preventing falls.  Older adults can even improve balance while washing the dishes, talking on the phone, or waiting in line at the store by performing single-leg stands, or standing marches.  Follow this link to the Silver Sneakers blog to learn more exercises you can do in your own home to help promote better balance.  Talk to your doctor if you have a fall or for more information about treatments or physical therapy for instability and fall prevention.