A new study has revealed that struggling to balance on one leg for 20 seconds or longer may be an indication of small blood vessel damage in the brain and reduced cognitive function in otherwise healthy people with no clinical symptoms.
Yasuharu Tabara, Ph.D., lead study author and associate professor at the Center for Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Kyoto, Japan, said that their study found that the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health and individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline.
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.
The 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.
It was also found that 34.5% of those with more than two lacunar infarction lesions had trouble balancing, while 16% of those with one lacunar infarction lesion had trouble balancing and 30% of those with more than two microbleed lesions had trouble balancing and that 15.3% with 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.
The study was published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke.