Lack of Leg Balance Points to Stroke Risk

December 29, 2014
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

A simple balancing test may provide insights into an individual's brain health.

A simple balancing test may provide insights into an individual’s brain health.

Those who cannot balance on 1 leg for 20 seconds may have an increased risk for stroke or small blood vessel damage in their brain, according to a new study published in Stroke.

The study examined 841 women and 546 men aged 67 years, on average, who stood with their eyes open and 1 leg raised for 60 seconds or less. They performed this task twice, and the researchers used their longest time, in addition to brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate cerebral small vessel disease.

The researchers found that individuals who had trouble balancing on 1 leg for 20 seconds or less were more likely to show cerebral small vessel disease, such as lacunar infarction and microbleeds.

Among the subjects who had trouble balancing, 34.5% had more than 2 lacunar infarction lesions, 16% had 1 lacunar infarction, 30% had more than 2 microbleed lesions, and 15.3 had 1 microbleed lesion, according to the study. Those who found balance trouble tended to be older and have high blood pressure and thicker carotid arteries than those who did not.

Difficulty with balancing was also linked to lower cognitive scores, the researchers found.

“Our study found that the ability to balance on 1 leg is an important test for brain health,” said leady study author Yasuharu Tabara, PhD, an associate professor at the Center for Genomic Medicine in the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan, in a press release. "Individuals showing poor balance on 1 leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline."

This was the first study to examine the link between balancing on 1 leg and overall brain health, according to the researchers.