We are all interested in knowing how long we will live. Of course, accidents and illnesses can happen anytime, but barring all those unexpected events, well, how many years are you going to live?
A pointer towards longevity is surely family history. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, obesity and other inherited diseases in the family are risk factors. Others include addictions of all kinds, to drugs, alcohol and smoking. Life style matters too. A sedentary life is too often ended sooner than later. A diet consisting mainly of fast food, including processed meat and sugary drinks, will not help you either, to live long. Stress, as we all know, is another factor that determines how many years are left to live.
It now appears that more concrete, tangible predictors are actually possible. A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology outlined a simple test to determine how long you will live.
According to the study, how easy or difficult it is for you to sit down on the floor and then get back up, can help predict how long you will live. The study found that elderly and middle aged people who had to use both hands and knees to get up and down were seven times more likely to die within six years, compared to people of the same age group who could spring up and down without support.
Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo, a professor at Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeiro who worked on the study, said that body flexibility, balance, muscle coordination, and the ratio of muscle power to body weight were the major factors that determined a person’s ease of getting up and sitting down without assistance. Therefore, the test gives an idea of a patient’s ability to function normally from day-to-day.
Such an ability is necessary for not only practical purposes such as picking up something that dropped on the floor, but also for a feeling of autonomy, which is very important for the psychological wellbeing of the elderly. “Imagine if your glasses went below the bed. You would need to sit on the floor to reach them and then you would need to rise,” said Araújo.
Having to depend on others for even the simplest of tasks, and the helplessness arising from it, are traumatic issues of old age.
In the study, researchers monitored 2002 adults aged 51 to 80 for an average of 6.3 years. 68% of the study population was men. Each volunteer was asked to sit down on the floor, and then get up using the least amount of support from knees, hands and other body parts.
They could score five points if they sat down without touching their hands, legs, arms or knees on the floor. They got another five points if they could get back up without help.
One point each was lost for a body part that was leaned on while getting up or sitting down. So, people who got down touching the floor with just one knee scored four points. If they needed to support themselves with both a hand and a knee on the floor as they were rising, they lost two points and got a score of three. If the volunteers appeared wobbly on the way up or down, they lost half a point.
The most agile of the study participants got a perfect 10 while those who absolutely could not get up or down scored a zero. Notably, during the course of the study, 159 of the volunteers passed away, and the majority of the deaths had occurred in the group that had got a very low score or zero in the test. Thus, the researchers found that there was a significant relationship between the test score and risk of death.
If someone between the age of 51 and 80 could get up and sit down perfectly without any support, there was a good chance they were going to be alive for the next six years and beyond. They were also likely to be functioning well in life. Obviously, they led an active life.
This category was 1.8 times more likely to die in the next six years, than those with the highest scores. Though not as flexible as the perfect 10 group, these volunteers could improve their balance and flexibility with a little effort.
Those volunteers who had scores of 3.5 to 5.5 were 3.8 times more likely to die in the next six years, than the high scorers. This category of people was much less active than the previous two, and needed a lot of motivation and effort to increase their score.
Volunteers with this score were 6.5 times more likely to die in the next six years compared to people who scored from 8 to 10. A person who scored this low obviously had very little flexibility, balance and coordination, all of which indicated rapidly failing health.
The value of the test for primary care physicians is obvious. Any elderly person who is not able to sit down and get back up can be advised an exercise regimen that focused on strengthening muscles and losing extra weight. In fact, the test can give a quick indication of the fitness level of senior citizens, and the best thing is that they advice on palliative care for those who are looking for a senior home as well.
A more important benefit may be the motivation given by this study, since the test so clearly indicates the link between longevity and physical fitness. The study will at least give physicians a solid rationale to prescribe more activity and movement in old age.