Mobility and Mortality

Could being able to get up and down from the floor prolong your life? Depends how you do it.

According to a just-published study in The European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention, the ability to easily stand up from the floor and sit down again is correlated with longevity. Brazilian researchers tested over 2000 middle-aged and elderly people to see how well they could move back and forth from sitting on the floor to standing. The researchers graded the participants on the quality of their movement. Those who could transition up and down smoothly without using their hands or knees for support got the highest score. Here’s a video (with English subtitles) explaining the test in detail:

When the researchers followed up with the subjects about six years later, they found that those who needed more than one hand or knee to get up and down were more likely to have died than their more nimble counterparts.

The researchers adjusted their results to account for obesity, age and gender, but still found that, regardless of age or body mass index, the lower the score on the sitting-rising test, the higher the mortality rate.

Of course, it’s probably not the actual act of getting up and down that protects you. Rather, your ability to do so is correlated with other factors, such as flexibility, coordination, balance, and muscular strength and power — all of which affect your ability to survive and thrive.

Muscular strength and power are strongly correlated with life span. The more muscle mass and strength you lose as you age, the shorter your life expectancy. Older folks who walk faster – an indication of muscular power – live longer.

Although its relationship to mortality hasn’t been well researched, flexibility may play a role too. A study a few years ago found that those who performed poorly on the sit and reach test (think paschimottanasana measured with a ruler) had stiffer arteries, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

However, my gut feeling is that it’s not just how much horsepower you have, but how smart the driver – your nervous system — is. Getting up and down from the floor with ease requires coordination, timing, balance and proprioception, all of which depend upon an aware, responsive nervous system. People whose brains continue to learn and adapt as they age will not only move better than those who allow their minds to stiffen; they’ll live longer.

How does this relate to yoga? Sure, you get up and down from the floor every time you roll out your mat. But how do you do it? Do you hold your breath when you go to sit on your mat? Do you clomp to your feet like the tin man at the end of class?

Start to pay attention to how you move and breathe during those transitions. Simply by directing your awareness, your brain will learn to refine the movement, making it more effortless and graceful. And, you just might live longer.

References

deBrito LB, et al. Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality. Eur J Prev Cardiol 2012 Dec 13. [Epub ahead of print]

deBrito LB, et al. Does Flexibility Influence the Ability to Sitand Rise from the Floor? Am J Phys MedRehabil. 2012 Nov 1. [Epub ahead of print]

Cuoco A, et al. Impact of muscle power and force on gait speed in disabled older men and women. JGerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2004 Nov;59(11):1200-6.

Hirvensalo M, etal. Mobility difficulties and physicalactivity as predictors of mortality and loss of independence in the community-living older population. J AmGeriatr Soc. 2000 May;48(5):493-8.

Ruiz JR, et al. Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2008Jul 1;337:a439.

Studenski S, et al.Gait speed and survival in older adults. JAMA. 2011 Jan 5;305(1):50-8.

Wolfe RR. The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006Sep;84(3):475-82.

Yamamoto K, et al. Poor trunk flexibility is associated with arterial stiffening. Am J Physiol Heart CircPhysiol. 2009 Oct;297(4):H1314-8.

Copyright Joseph Miller

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