Here’s a quick, do-it-yourself test for brain health: See how long you can stay balanced on one leg.
If you can’t hold that flamingo position for at least 20 seconds, it could indicate damage to small blood vessels in your brain even if you have no other symptoms, new research finds. That damage could put you at high risk for stroke and cognitive decline.
A stroke is caused by a clot or bleeding in the brain that interrupts blood flow. Even tiny “silent” strokes, called microbleeds, can cause damage that affects a person’s walking and balance.
Japanese researchers wanted to devise a simple, low-cost test that could indicate whether these microbleeds had already occurred in people who otherwise seemed healthy. The result was a one-leg balance test described in a new study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.
About 1,400 men and women, average age 67, were asked to stand with one leg raised and their eyes open for a maximum of 60 seconds. Each subject did this twice, with the better time recorded for the study. Afterward, each subject underwent an MRI brain scan to detect any blood vessel damage.
Those who struggled to stay balanced for 20 seconds were more likely to have had tiny strokes or bleeding. About 35 percent of those who had had two or more of these mini-strokes had trouble balancing; 30 percent of those with two or more microbleeds also had trouble staying balanced on one leg.
In addition, short balance times were linked with lower scores on memory and thinking tests.
The researchers did note that people with blood vessel damage tended to be older and have high blood pressure and thicker carotid (neck) arteries than those who had not had mini-strokes or bleeding.
“Our study found that the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health,” lead author Yasuharu Tabara, associate professor at the Center for Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan, said in a news release.
Those who can’t stay balanced for very long should talk to their doctor, he added, “as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline.”
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