We know that lifestyle plays a role in how long we live. Staying active, eating a nutrient-dense, whole food diet, getting adequate sleep, and managing stress can add years to your life. Most chronic health problems that shorten lifespan aren’t because of genetics but lifestyle. Unfortunately, the United States has a higher death rate than comparable countries. The reasons are multifactorial. However, the high rates of obesity in the U.S. and the unhealthy lifestyle of many Americans is a factor in our less than stellar longevity statistics.
But what if you could know what your odds are of dying early? There’s no way to predict with precision when a person will die. However, we can make some predictions based on age, medical history, and lifestyle habits such as smoking and alcohol use, diet, and levels of physical activity. But what if there is a simple test you can do at home that predicts all-cause mortality? According to research, there is one. It’s called the sit-and-rise test.
What is the Sit-and-Rise Test?
The sit-and-rise test is a simple test that only requires an exercise mat. First, stand on the mat and try to lower your body on to the mat until you’re in a sitting position, but try to do it without using your hands. Now, go in the reverse direction. Rise off the mat at your chosen speed using as little support as necessary. Ideally, stand without putting a hand down on the mat and without using your knees. How did you do?
You might be wondering how this test came about and what it means. Researchers at the Clinimex — Exercise Medicine Clinic in Rio de Janeiro asked over 2,000 adults between the ages of 51 and 80 to do the sit-and-rise test. Then, they followed the adults for over 6 years to see how many died and compared it to their scores on the sit-and-rise test
What did they find? Those who could rise with the least amount of support were less likely to die over the course of the study. In fact, those with low scores had a 6-times greater mortality risk over the following 6 years. For the test, the researchers subtracted a point for each source of support the subjects used. For example, using one hand or knee to get off the mat deducted one point, and subjects who had to use a hand and a knee or two hands or two knees lost two points. In this way, they assigned the participants a composite score.
There are some possible limitations to the study. For one, the subjects were of a certain age range. It’s not clear if the test is predictive for people under 50 or over 80. Although they screen the participants beforehand for injuries, it’s possible that sub-clinical injuries could have interfered with the ability of some participants to stand up without support. For example, if you have a thigh injury or an abdominal injury, doing the sit-and-rise test would be harder.
Why might this test be predictive? It takes a certain amount of strength to rise from a mat without using support. This indicates a strong and functional musculoskeletal system and also a healthy metabolism. Other studies suggest that strength is a marker of health and longevity. People who lack the strength to get up from the floor without using their hands or knees are more likely to have sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass. Sarcopenia is a risk factor for health problems that shorten lifespans like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Plus, studies show that loss of muscle strength and power are markers of greater mortality. If you lack strength and power, it’s harder to push yourself out of a chair and catch yourself if you trip. In the study, those who had high scores on the sit-and-rise test experienced no falls over the 6-year period the study ran.
Don’t Be Discouraged if You Didn’t Score Well
If you had to use your hands or knees to get up, don’t be disheartened. It means you need to devote more time to strength and power training. Maybe it’s time to increase the work with heavier weights It’s easy to get into a training rut where you do the same exercises and the same weights over and over. If you’re doing that, you’ve reached a plateau and are maintaining but not adding to your level of strength.
Increasing the resistance you use when weight training will boost strength, but boosting power is just as important. Power is the ability to generate force quickly, and it’s essential to healthy aging. When you rise from the floor or push yourself out of a chair, it requires strength but also power. Some older people cannot thrust themselves up with enough speed and force to stand. So, it’s not lack of power is just as important, if not more so, than strength.
How can you boost your power capabilities? Do movements that force you to generate force quickly, such as quick tempo weight training, kettlebell swings, sprints, or plyometric movements. You can also increase your upper body power by tossing a medicine ball against a wall with force. So, focus some of your training on movements where your muscles contract quickly. Doing this will help balance out your training too.
Also, practice the sit-and-rise test until you can do it fluidly without hands or knees. Once you can complete the test without using your hands or knees, try crossing your legs, one over the other, in the sitting position and try to rise. This is a harder version of the same movement and recruits even more muscle groups. If you can do it, congratulations!
The Bottom Line
The sit-and-rise test is a fun test to try at home and it may provide some information about your ability to generate strength and power, factors that play a role in health and longevity. If you had to use your hands or knees to get up, it may be time to change your strength training routine and add some power moves. If you haven’t started strength training yet, use it as a warning that it’s time to start!
· HealthySystemTracker.org. “How do mortality rates in the U.S. compare to other countries?”
· European Journal of Cardiology. “Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality”
· J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Mar; 28(3): 616–621. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a361b8.
· American Council on Exercise. “Power Training for Active Agers”