Can This Exercise Tell When You're Going to Die?

Could your ability to sit and stand unaided predict when you’re going to die? Maybe, according to a study from physician Claudio Gil Araujo of Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The research isn’t new — it was first published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology in 2012 — but it’s making the rounds again; it’s definitely still relevant, so let’s take a look shall we?

Believing existing clinical tests assessing flexibility, balance, and muscle strength to be too impractical or time-consuming, Araujo developed an alternative for assessing musculoskeletal strength called the Sitting-Rising Test, or SRT. He then asked 2,002 adults between the ages of 51 and 80 years old, 68 percent of which were men and all of whom were part of an exercise program at the Clinimex Exercise Medicine Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, to perform the SRT both to and from the floor. They were given two separate scores on a scale of zero to five, one for lowering themselves to the floor and one for rising from it; beginning with five points each time, they had one point subtracted for each method of support they used — pushing themselves off or supporting themselves on the floor with a hand, brace a hand on a knee as they sat or rose, and so on.

Here’s how the test is done:

Got it? Good.

Once a score had been obtained both for performing the SRT moving from standing to sitting and for moving from sitting to standing, these two scores were added together, giving each participant a final score ranging between zero and 10. The complete data set with all final scores was then stratified for analysis, with groups falling into four categories: zero to three, 3.5 to 5.5, six to 7.5, and eight to 10. The highest possible score — meaning no methods of support were used, resulting in no points being deducted — was 10; the lowest was zero.

Researchers then followed up with the participants several years later, with the median amount of time being 6.3 years. 159 deaths occurred — 7.9 percent of the participants — with those who scored fewer than eight points being twice as likely to die within six years than those who scored between eight and 10. Furthermore, participants who scored three or fewer points were five times more likely to die within that time frame than those with scores in the eight-to-10 range.

Uh… yikes. Perhaps it’s time to think about whipping that musculoskeletal system into shape, no?

It’s worth noting, though, that there are a lot of different factors at work here (repeat after me: Correlation is not causation). For example, I haven’t been able to figure out what the age distribution was among those four stratified score categories. A lot can happen between the ages of 51 and 80; it’s possible that the lower scores tended to belong to older people who may have been further along in life (and therefore a little bit closer to death) in the first place. Furthermore, the Daily Mail recently spoke to Sammy Margo, a physio-therapist, who said that the SRT might “quite ambitious” for older people in other cultures. British culture, for example, doesn’t include a lot of sitting on the floor; since it’s not a standard practice, it might not be quite as accurate a method of testing for Brits as it is for Brazilians.

Another option to the SRT? Something called the 30-Second Chair Stand Test. It involves sitting in the middle of a chair, crossing your arms across your chest, rising to standing from that position, and sitting back down again while maintaining the position; repeat this sequence of movements for 30 seconds and count how many times you come to a full standing position during that time. You can see the full range of scores over at the CDC’s website, but generally, if you’re between the ages of 60 and 64, you should be able to stand at least 14 times if you’re a man and 12 times if you’re a woman. If you can do it at least seven times as a 90-year-old man or 4 times as a 90-year-old woman, you’re in good shape — and also congratulations for living that long, because that’s also truly an accomplishment.

That said, though, keeping your musculoskeletal strength up can only be a good thing, no matter how old you are. If you’re still young, why not get started on it now? You’re probably best off talking to a doctor or a trainer who knows best how to improve on this part of your workout, but here are a few tips to start. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?

Images: Montreal Gazette videos/YouTube; Giphy