Tokyo: If you struggle to balance on one leg for 20 seconds or longer, check for brain health and stroke risk even if you are otherwise healthy.
According to research, the inability to balance on one leg was linked to an increased risk for small blood vessel damage in the brain and reduced cognitive function in otherwise healthy people with no clinical symptoms.
"We found that the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health. Individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline," said Yasuharu Tabara, associate professor from the centre for genomic medicine at Kyoto University, Japan.
The team analysed 841 women and 546 men with average age 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.
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.
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, 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.
Small vessel disease occurs due to microangiopathy of arterioles in the brain, making these arteries less flexible, which can interfere with blood flow.
"One-leg standing time is a simple measure of postural instability and might be a consequence of the presence of brain abnormalities," Tabara noted.
The research appeared in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke.