Struggling to stand on one leg for less than 20 seconds is linked to a higher risk of stroke, small blood vessel damage in the brain, and reduced cognitive function in otherwise healthy people, a new study has found.
“Our study found that the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health,” said Yasuharu Tabara, lead study author and associate professor at the Center for Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Kyoto, Japan.
“Individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline,” Tabara said.
The study consisted of 841 women and 546 men, average age of 67. To measure one-leg standing time, participants stood with their eyes open and raised one leg.
The maximum time for keeping the leg raised was 60 seconds. Participants performed this examination twice and the better of the two times was used in the study analysis.
Cerebral small vessel disease was evaluated using brain magnetic resonance imaging.
Researchers found that the inability to balance on one leg for longer than 20 seconds was associated with cerebral small vessel disease, namely small infarctions without symptoms such as lacunar infarction and microbleeds.
The study found that 34.5 per cent of those with more than two lacunar infarction lesions had trouble balancing and 16 per cent of those with one lacunar infarction lesion had trouble balancing.
Thirty per cent of those with more than two microbleed lesions had trouble balancing and 15.3 per cent with one microbleed lesion had trouble balancing.
Overall, those with cerebral diseases were older, had high blood pressure and had thicker carotid arteries than those who did not have cerebral small vessel disease.
However, after adjustment for these covariates, people with more microbleeds and lacunar infarctions in the brain had shorter one-legged standing times.
Short one-legged standing times were also independently linked with lower cognitive scores.
“One-leg standing time is a simple measure of postural instability and might be a consequence of the presence of brain abnormalities,” said Tabara.
The research was published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.