A leg to stand on

Standing on one leg can be a good indicator of your health. How is your balance? Has it changed over the years? Do you practice balance activities?

Research shows that one’s ability to balance on one leg is a general sign of one’s health. If you have poor balance on one leg, getting better can improve your fitness and, as research shows, potentially your lifespan.

The ability to balance on one leg is linked to increased levels of physical activity and a reduced risk of falling. The World Health Organization states that falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide (April 2021). 37.3 million falls across the globe are severe enough to require medical attention each year. Postural instability – poor balance – has been linked to early pathological changes in the brain and functional decline, even in apparently healthy subjects. (Stroke 2015, Tabara et al). Sedentary behaviour and sitting for prolonged periods of time have been associated with lower muscle strength, reduced physical function and a higher risk of falls.

The Single Leg Stance test has been used to assess static postural and balance control. This test is performed with the eyes open and arms at the side. You must stand unassisted on one leg and be timed in seconds from the time the foot leaves the ground to the time when it touches back down, or an arm leaves your side. If you are unable to perform this one-legged stand for at least 5 seconds, you are at an increased risk for an injurious fall.

Sadly, the strength of our muscles peaks around age 25 and plateaus through ages 35-40 years. From there, an “accelerating decline, with 25% loss of peak force by the age of 65 years”. Ughh! This loss of strength may progressively impede our activities of daily living. It may become difficult to carry in groceries, open a medicine bottle or get ourselves up off the floor. However, the silver lining is that muscle strength can be greatly improved with resistance training, even in 90 year old subjects! (Aging and Exercise, Shephard et al, 1998). Protein synthesis (muscle building) proceeds more slowly in older subjects than younger adults, however regular resisted exercise has been shown to prevent the loss of lean muscle regardless of age.

As we age gracefully, the risks associated with falling become greater. There are gradual changes in our physical strength, our bone density, muscle mass and generally our sense of balance. Our other senses that contribute to our body’s awareness are also changing. The visual, vestibular and somatosensory systems (the sensory nervous system – touch, pain, temperature, movement) all play a role in our body’s proprioception – awareness of body position. If one of these systems fail us, for example our eyesight, our balance can be inhibited as well.

All of these age-related changes are accelerated by sedentary behaviour. HOWEVER, it’s never too late! Being active, even in several 10 min bursts throughout the day, can slow age related changes, improve strength, improve balance and reduce the risk of future falls. Lifting weights, yoga, tai chi, postural stability exercises, dancing – are all examples of light to moderate activity that can be incorporated into your day.

If you are struggling with your postural stability and balance, or the Single Leg Stance test was a challenge for you, we would love to help you! There may be an injury or a decline in health and  activity for multiple reasons. Our team of physiotherapists, athletic therapy, massage and personal training can help you get your balance back.

We wish everyone in the community a happy holiday season! We are so blessed to live and work here, surrounded by wonderful people and beautiful nature.  Enjoy a great balance of rest, good food, many laughs and outdoor adventures this holiday season.

Jennifer Gordon (BSc.PT, BA Kin, GunnIMS, AFCI)