Here’s a test your doctor might one day ask you to perform. Stand up, lift a leg off the ground, place the free foot behind the leg still attached to Mother Earth. With your hands by your side, gaze straight ahead while counting to 10. One Mississippi… Two Mississippi…
You get three tries to make it to 10. If you make it all the way without toppling, congratulations. You’ve got a leg up in the longevity department compared with those people who teeter and fall like a bowling pin in a stiff breeze.
That’s according to Australian researchers who found that people in mid- to later life who fail this test face double the risk of dying of any cause within the next decade. They suggest that this sort of exam might serve as a routine health check when visiting a doctor. The thought is that we might be able to get into better shape before this death prophesy is fulfilled like some mummy’s curse.
The study looked at data from an exercise study that started in 2009. About 1,700 participants, ages 51 to 75, were asked to do the balance test. About 1 in 5 couldn’t hold themselves up for the full 10 Mississippis. They were generally in poorer health.
Over the next seven years more than 17% of those unable to balance themselves died, mostly of cancer or heart disease, a far higher rate than those who could. Researchers controlled for underlying health, age and sex to calculate that those who faltered had an 84% higher risk of dying within 10 years.
The good news is that you can work at getting healthier if at first you don’t succeed. See your family doctor. Exercise. Eat right. That mummy’s curse, on the other hand — well, its cure might take a visit to a specialist.