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Aging Well? This Magic Test Might Let You Know

Dec 30, 2020 | Physical

Photo by Jeremy Chen on Unsplash

Most of us need less weight, more strength and better balance.

A few years ago, a video showing the sitting-rising test went viral. The test, devised by Brazilian physician Dr Claudio Gil Araújo, predicts mortality in middle-aged to older people. This longevity forecaster measures a person’s ability to lower themselves to a sitting position on the floor, cross legged, without the assistance of their hands, knees, elbows or sides, and stand back up again, unaided. Ten points get awarded to a person that completes this perfectly (five points for sitting, five for standing). One point is deducted each time assistance is required. For example, if the person needs to lean on an elbow when standing up, a point will be deducted.

Eezy peezy…or is it?

I saw the video for the first time on social media, while scrolling through my phone over lunch, and immediately shared it with my colleagues. At the time, my working environment consisted of ten staff members in an open office layout. A group of men and women (more men than women) between the ages of 30–43 years. None of us carried any extra weight (much) and most of us boasted an average to above-average fitness level.

We all watched the video and got chatting. Within a few minutes, we jointly agreed, ‘What the heck, let’s give it a try!’ In an instant, the room filled with hysterical laughter, as bodies, (tall, short, flexible and inflexible) fell about the office, laughing, judging, and demanding a second or third try. We had a few with split trousers. We consoled those colleagues who remained stuck to the floor, terrified that this meant, for them, an early demise. In the end, we had three delighted team members who completed the task perfectly and unaided, with the rest of us (excluding the two still on the floor) relying on, at the bare minimum, a pinkie finger push up.

The guys that played soccer every week struggled the most, telling us their hamstrings were shorter than those of us who do not train as often, making the score of 10/10 impossible. Our young company lawyer, an avid canoeist, looked something like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz as he stiffly fell to the ground and awkwardly rose, one body part at a time, leaning on his elbows, knees and sides, to his feet. To this day, we still laugh about that scene. Our company accountant, a yoga fanatic, made a notably graceful descent to the floor, followed by a prompt almost bounce-like return to her feet. It was angel-like really, or should I say phoenix-like?

I found the results astounding, considering our weight, fitness levels and, most importantly, the fact that we were under the age of the test’s intended user group (51 years and over). We had confidently expected to score 100%, which was not the case.

I started looking into the test further and read more on the research. I was keen to know about the test’s accuracy in the forecast of our longevity. Did those that specialised in activities like Pilates and yoga have a longer, healthier life ahead than the rest of us? If I undertook yoga daily, or at least got five ‘sunnies’ under my belt every morning, would heaven wait a bit longer as I enjoyed a good second half?  

Erin Strout wrote an enjoyable article in the The Washington Post on the sitting-rising test. She included this quote that Dr Araújo said in a 2012 news release:

It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival, but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio and co- ordination are not only good for performing daily activities, but have a favourable influence on life expectancy.

I thought of all the elderly people I have known and how often their lives have deteriorated following a fall. Cracked hips seem so common amongst old folks, leaving them debilitated or, worse still, bed bound. The test seemed a fair judgement of overall strength, agility and balance.

I have since taken the test again, three years later. Frustratingly, I struggled with getting up without, at least, rocking myself backwards and forwards until enough momentum sucked me to my feet. It wasn’t graceful!

So, where does this leave some of us? How should we go about life knowing we did not score the results we wanted on the mortality test? Before we begin preparing for an early departure, there is still hope. Firstly, though it provides an accurate assessment of our core strength and sense of balance, this fall and rise test is not the only measure of mortality; there are many other tests and considerations. Secondly, most of the reasons (weight, flexibility and strength) behind a person getting low results in the test are addressable. A bit of extra weight, particularly around the tummy line, can make lifting your body weight that much harder, as can hindering ailments like joint pains, knee injuries, etc.,

What did I conclude?

#1) We must keep moving! Our lives are more sedentary than ever before. Whether it be stretches in the morning, a brisk walk across the park, a jog along the riverbank or a swim in the sea, movement is key. Exercise needs to become a regular part of our days, like brushing our teeth. It keeps us flexible, strong and fit, all vital elements as we age.

#2) For those of us who are not into physical activity or even used to it, we need to find, and do more of, what we love. For me, that means more walks, longer and faster, a weekend bicycle ride and stretches most mornings. I feel the ‘150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise a week’ is a good rule of thumb.

#3) I try including the ever-faithful sun salutations to my exertions, not only to improve my flexibility and core strength, but balance is important as we age. I am hoping yoga will put me on a better footing for my second half.

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