Capacity to Stand on One Leg Reflects Brain Health

by Sudha Bhat on  February 3, 2015 at 5:31 PM Health In Focus   - G J E 4
Your ability to balance on one leg may serve as an indicator to your brain health. A new study claims that the inability to balance on one leg for more than 20 seconds means that the person is more prone or likely to have damaged blood vessels in their brain and hence faces early cognitive decline.
Capacity to Stand on One Leg Reflects Brain Health
Capacity to Stand on One Leg Reflects Brain Health

Your brain is a complicated organ, which is the command and control center of your body. When you think of a fit body, you rarely associate your brain with it. But the truth is that if you want a healthy body, the first place to always start is by having a healthy brain. Health of your brain plays a critical role in almost everything you do like thinking, feeling, remembering, working, playing and even sleeping.

So if being healthy is a way of life and the root of all health is in your brain, it is important to understand that it is not just about what you feed your body, it's also what you feed your mind. After all, the flower of your health blooms when all parts of your body including your brain work together.

Studies have shown that the brain shrinks with increasing age and incidence of stroke, dementia, memory impairment all increase. However mental decline isn't inevitable; it is up to you to keep mentally fit, as you get older.

Why Balance is Important?

The researchers conducted a study in 841 men and 546 women, with an average age of 67 years. The results of the study were published in the journal Stroke. The participants were asked to mount or balance on one leg for up to 60 seconds if possible. They were allowed to keep their eyes open during this assignment. Factors such as heart disease and high blood pressure which could have an impact on the results of the study were also taken into account. The researchers considered the amount of time the participants could balance on one leg with their eyes open or the ability to stand in an erect position as a measure of postural stability. The scientists recorded the times for two different attempts and then took their average. They also simultaneously evaluated the cerebral small vessel disease using brain MRI scan. The researchers also measured cognitive impairment using computer-based questionnaires.

The researchers compared the time that the participants were able to balance on one leg with the MRI scan results. They found an amazing co-relation between the balance time and brain health, particularly the health of the small blood vessels that feed the brain. The results showed that participants who could not balance on one leg for more than 20 seconds were more prone or likely to have damaged blood vessels in their brain. This included areas where micro-bleeds or "mini-strokes" had previously occurred.

They explained that changes in postural stability and difficulty balancing on one leg could be a warning sign of brain vessel abnormalities and an early indicator of brain health decline and could also be a sign of brain disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Cognitive decline due to damage caused to small blood vessels in the brain could be a risk factor for stroke.

Lead author Yasuharu Tabara, from a Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Kyoto, Japan commented "Our study found that the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health"

The participants who had trouble balancing on one leg were as follows:
  • More than two lacunar infarction lesions - 34.5%
  • One lacunar infarction lesion - 16%  
  • More than two micro-bleed lesions - 30%
  • One micro-bleed lesion - 15.3%
Participants who were unable to balance on one leg were also independently associated with lower cognitive functioning scores. The study revealed that participants who were found to have cerebral small vessel disease were in general found to be older who suffered with high blood pressure and thicker carotid arteries as compared to participants who did not have any damage to their brains. Participants with more subclinical infarctions were found to have reduced times for standing on one leg.

The researchers felt that the only drawback of the study was that they failed to assess the participants' previous history of falling or physical fitness issues such as abnormalities in their gaits, which could potentially have impacted the results of their study. They agreed that additional long-term studies would be needed in future in order to fully assess the significance of postural instability.

Tabara further added, "One-leg standing time is a simple measure of postural instability and might be a consequence of the presence of brain abnormalities.  Individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline."

Previous studies have also shown the ability to mount on one leg as a predictor of brain health. A study that was published in the British medical Journal in 2014 showed a link between the balancing time on one leg and all-cause mortality. The participants were asked to do this task with their eyes closed, as the researchers believed that balancing on one leg with eyes closed would be more challenging due to lack of any visual input. The study participants who could not balance on one leg without opening their eyes for 2 seconds or more had nearly 3 times higher risk for death compared to those who could balance on a leg for 10 seconds or longer.

Your mind is like a parachute - it works only when it is open. Thus a healthy life both physically and mentally could be your best defense against the changes of an ageing brain. In simple words, protect your brain health to keep the cognitive decline at bay!

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