Simple Test Predicts Longevity

Don’t be surprised if your doctor asks you to sit on the floor at your next checkup. A new study says testing a person’s ability to sit down and then rise from the floor could provide useful insight into their overall health and longevity.

Brazilian researchers discovered an interesting link between a person’s ability to sit and rise from the floor and the risk of being 6.5 times more likely to die in the next six years. The study, published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention, included a simple test in which more than 2,000 people ages 51 to 80 attempted to sit down on the floor and then stand back up using as little support as possible.

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Floors are Replacing Chairs

Chairs used to be a helpful tool to measure a person’s strength and lower body fitness. Having a person stand up from a seated position helped doctors assess a person's overall frailty and also if he or she is likely to fall (and thereby at an increased risk of fracture). It also measured a person’s lower-body strength and agility.

But this new test has some real life applications. 

Instead of simply gauging a person’s ability to get up off the couch, the sitting test helps identify risks associated with picking up vital items—such as medicine or eyeglasses—that may drop on the floor. It also can identify those at risk of spending hours (or longer) on the floor after a fall—unable to get up or call for help.

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Aiming for a Perfect Score

The test used by the researchers required people to sit on the floor from a standing position and then return to a standing position. Speed wasn’t a factor in the scoring, but support was. 

The more support a person required—including bracing with a hand or knee or both—the lower the score for each action. A perfect score of five for each action (sitting and standing) was the goal. Points and half points were deducted for things like touching a hand or knee on the ground or pushing off with a hand on one knee to stand up. Looking wobbly on the way up or down cost participants half a point.

More than half the participants ages 76 to 80 failed the tests, scoring 0 to 3. Not surprising around 70 percent of those under 60 earned a near perfect or perfect score of 8, 9, or 10.

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Scores and Life Expectancy

People who scored 0 to 3 were 6.5 times more likely to die during the course of the 6.3 year study, compared to people who scored from 8 to 10. Those with scores of 3.5 to 5.5 were 3.8 times more likely to die as the high scorers—and those who scored in the 6 to 7.4 range were 1.8 times more likely to die than those with the highest scores.

During the course of the study 159 of the 2,000 volunteers died, with the majority of the deaths coming from the group that had the most trouble getting up and down. 

“Just two subjects that scored 10 died in the follow-up of about six years,” said Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo, a professor at Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeiro who worked on the study. If someone between the ages of 51 and 80 scores 10, “the chances of being alive in the next six years are quite good,” he said.

“A 1-point increment in the [sitting-rising] score was related to a 21 percent reduction in mortality," reported the investigators who noted this is the first study to demonstrate the prognostic value of the sitting-rising test,” said Araújo.

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It’s Not Just About Getting Up

The ease with which a person stands and sits clues doctors in to a person’s ratio of muscle power to body weight. But the researchers say there are other relevant issues. “It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival, but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio, and coordination are not only good for performing daily activities but have a favorable influence on life expectancy,” said Araújo.

What You Can Do

All is not lost if you don’t score a perfect 10. Doctors say physical activity like walking, swimming, yoga, and weight-resistance training can help improve scores on the sit/stand test and add years to your life. 

In addition, you can boost your level of physical activity with a few little things too.

You can burn up to 100 more calories a day if you park in the spot furthest from the door at the grocery store, use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator at the mall, or make multiple trips up and down the stairs when you’re putting away laundry. “Those little things add up to a lot of beneficial exercise you don’t realize you’re doing,” says Rose Marie Robertson, M.D., chief science officer, American Heart Association.

They can also help you increase your sit/stand score.

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