Children, Teens, Adults; no matter your age, fitness training almost always has that same familiar look that roughly fits into a few categories (we will just name a few big ones here): strength training by lifting weights, endurance training by long stretches of running, on the bike or treadmill, or cross training which targets both muscular and cardiovascular endurance. No matter if you are training on a sports team or out to improve your own health and fitness, most people end up training more or less in one of these familiar categories, and some even jump back and forth between the categories. But what about balance?
Yes, balance. Sure, muscular endurance and cardio are important, but balance may be the most overlooked aspect of health and fitness training in the world today (right up there with mobility work). Some balance is trained as a by-product of the common fitness categories listed above, but rarely is balance given dedicated training time and attention. Balance is a key element for elite athletes (think of Messi splitting two defenders while dribbling on the attack), but more importantly, it is a leading indicator of longevity. That’s right, balance is one of the best metrics to predict how likely you are to lead a long and healthy life. Strength and flexibility are up there as well in helping to predict longevity, but balance is often the most overlooked of these three aspects of health and fitness.
Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo of Brazil developed a simple test to determine how well certain aspects of physical health (strength, flexibility and balance) predicted longevity. Dr. Araujo’s test (which heavily relied on balance) and results, published in the European Journal of Cardiology, had over 2,000 patients aged 51 to 80 attempt to sit down on the floor and stand up again without using their hands, arms, knees, or side of their legs to support them. Participants were scored on a scale of one to ten (ten being the perfect score for doing the movement with zero assistance from the hands, knees, etc). Dr. Araujo then monitored the health of his patients over the years and found that patients who scored less than eight points on his test were twice as likely to die in the six years following the test than those who scored eight or higher. The test even accounted for other impacts of old age, meaning that a patient aged 51 years who scored less than eight on the test was still approximately twice as likely to die in the next six years compared to a patient aged 80 years who scored an eight or above on the test.
The science is still evolving, and correlation does not necessarily equate with causation, but it is clear that balance (and also mobility) is a key leading metric in predicting human longevity. So next time you stop in at Tribal, remember, all that work on the balance plank, hopping on one foot, and performing all variations of get-ups has a greater purpose - to turn you into the next Messi, OR just to ensure that you live a long, healthy and happy life.