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How Long Can You Balance on One Leg? What the Answer Reveals About Your Health + Longevity

Plus, expert tricks for improving your balance and strength

When it comes to exercise, we’re so focused on aerobic fitness, strength and flexibility that we don’t give much thought to improving our balance. That’s a mistake because there’s a use-it-or-lose-it element at play, and the answer to how long can you balance on one leg has consequences for your health and longevity. In fact, a study in a 2022 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people ages 51 to 75 who couldn’t stand on one foot for 10 seconds had a higher risk of death from any cause over the subsequent seven years. Among the 1,702 adults in the study, 20% couldn’t do it.

“Balance is one of the most important skills we have, partly because the risk of falling increases at a certain age and it’s one of the most common causes of death among older adults,” says Colleen Saidman Yee, a yoga studio owner in Sag Harbor, New York, and author of Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom. “We do lose our balance as we get older—the proprioceptors [sensory receptors that detect motion and body position] are not as agile and the spinal reflexes aren’t as quick as they once were. Plus, we lose fast-twitch muscle, which makes it difficult to balance.”

Challenge: How long can you stand on one leg?

woman doing tree pose

To assess your ability to balance, try this simple test, with each leg:

  1. Stand barefoot with the right side of your body about 1 foot away from a wall. Place your right hand against the wall and lift your left foot off the floor. Place your left foot against your right ankle and open your left knee out to the side. (If you’re familiar with yoga, this is a “tree pose.”)
  2. Once you feel steady, take your right hand off the wall and place both hands at your sides or place your palms together at heart center, in front of your chest, for stability.
  3. Keep your gaze on something unmoving just below eye level, and breathe in and out through your nose.
  4. Time how long you can balance on your right foot. Then, turn and face the other direction and repeat the challenge on your left leg.

How to interpret your balance test results

If you can hold the pose for longer than 10 seconds on each leg, give yourself a pat on the back. But “don’t be surprised if it’s harder on one foot than the other,” Saidman Yee says. This is a common result.

To make the balance challenge harder

If balancing on one foot for 10 seconds is a cinch, try staying in that position a little longer until you can work up to 1 minute on each foot, Saidman Yee suggests. To make it more challenging, you could hold this position with your eyes closed or you could bring the raised foot higher up on your standing leg, either just below or just above the knee. Or you could extend the raised leg in front of you and bring your hands to your hips.

If the balance test was too challenging

tree pose; ability to balance

Don’t worry; this is something you can work on. Practice this move while keeping one hand on the wall to steady yourself and focus on pressing your standing foot, from the front of the heel to the mound of the middle toe, down against the floor. Build up to letting go of the wall for a few moments at a time until you can do it for ten seconds.

To build your strength and ability to balance

“If you can walk, it means you can balance on one foot at least very briefly,” Saidman Yee says. To build up how long you can balance, “go on a slow march and wait a second or two before you set the other foot down,” she advises. “That could be good training wheels for the balance test.”

More benefits of improving balance

Besides improving balance, being able to balance on one leg “strengthens the stabilizing muscles around the knees and hips, reducing your risk of injury and building self-confidence,” Saidman Yee says. “It improves posture and coordination, and being able to balance on both sides evenly is good for your brain because it requires focus and attention.”

For more to boost your fitness, keep reading!

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