Research: What Can Standing on 1 Leg Predict about Your Brain?

Woman Standing on One Leg/Volanthevist Collection/Moment Open /Getty Images.

Recent research makes a correlation between two things we might not normally connect- our brains and the ability to stand on one leg.

The Research

Scientists at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan conducted research involving 1,387 middle-age to older adults. They tested these healthy participants' ability to stand on one leg. Each person was asked to stand on one leg and timed as to how long they could maintain balance without putting their other foot down onto the floor.

They were tested twice and the better score was kept.

The participant's cognitive functioning was also assessed by a computerized dementia assessment scale. This screening evaluated their immediate and short-term memory, visual-spatial perception and their orientation. Additionally, they underwent an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain to evaluate its health. The MRI specifically looked for evidence of small vessel disease (blood flow problems in smaller arteries), lacunar infarcts (a type of stroke), periventricular hyperintensities and micro-bleeds- the presence of "mini-strokes" which had not been detected previously and caused no current problems. Participants also had an ultrasound to assess their degree of arteriosclerosis.

The Results

The participants who were unable to stand on one leg for more than 20 seconds were found to have notably lower scores on the dementia assessment scale and significantly more signs of lacunar infarcts and micro-bleeds.

Why Does This Matter?

Lacunar infracts and micro-bleeds are risk factors for more significant strokes and vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is a type of dementia that can be caused by a stroke or by smaller problems with blood flow in the brain over time.

Read more: What's the Difference between Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease?

Researchers suggest that if people "fail" this one-leg standing test (I.e., are only able to stand for less than 20 seconds), they should perhaps receive more proactive and preventative medical care and attention.

Now What?

If you're like me, right now you're considering getting up off the couch or desk chair and testing your one-leg balancing ability. Or, perhaps you've already tried it. Whether you pass or fail, here are a few things to remember.

  • This is newer research, meaning that it hasn't yet been replicated time after time in different studies. Research generally needs to be conducted to verify these findings.
  • If this research is verified, it could become an inexpensive and fast way to screen for the potential for stroke and cognitive decline. Results could trigger more preventative care.
  • Early detection of cognitive decline has many benefits.
  • Whether you "pass" or "fail" the standing-on-one-leg test, it's not too late to change the trajectory of your brain health.

How to Improve Your Brain Health

Science has repeatedly demonstrated that physical exercise, mental activity and diet can affect your brain health.

Studies show that these ways of healthy living- in younger years, the middle ages and even in older people who already have dementia- can improve the actual physical health of the brain as well as the functioning such as memory. Here are a few practical articles on how to take care of your brain- by the numbers:


Kalani, R. Blogging Stroke. Postural Instability, Asymptomatic Cerebrovascular Disease, and Cognitive Decline. December 18, 2014.

Stroke. Association of Postural Instability With Asymptomatic Cerebrovascular Damage and Cognitive Decline; The Japan Shimanami Health Promoting Program Study. December 18, 2014.

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