All the subtle signs you’re at risk of an early death

From having a weak handshake to struggling to climb the stairs, experts over the past few decades have uncovered dozens of subtle signs that you’re in poor health.

But now they’ve uncovered another.

Research suggests being unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds is a warning sign that you’re at risk of being sent to an early grave.

Brazilian experts, who tracked 2,000 people aged 50 to 75, found volunteers who couldn’t complete the flamingo test were 84 per cent more likely to die early, compared to those who passed the test with ease.

Here, MailOnline reveals some of the other subtle signs you could be at risk of an early death.

Balancing on one leg

Those who wobble when trying to stand on one leg are at risk, according to the latest study.

Researchers in Brazil found that those who couldn’t complete the ‘Flamingo’ exercise were nearly twice as likely to die early as those who could.

More than 1,700 participants, aged 50 to 75, underwent various fitness tests, including standing on one leg for 10 seconds without any support.

This involved placing the front of one foot on the back of the opposite lower leg, while keeping arms by the sides and looking straight ahead.

Over the course of the study — conducted by researchers at Exercise Medicine Clinic CLINIMEX in Rio de Janeiro — which saw each participant monitored for an average of seven years, 123 people died.

The results, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that those unable to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds were 84 per cent more likely to die from any cause.

By no means does it mean balance problems are the actual cause of death.

But lead researcher Dr Claudio Gil Araujo said good levels of balance are needed for daily life and a loss of balance is ‘detrimental for health’.

Therefore, the test ‘provides rapid and objective feedback for the patient and health professionals regarding static balance’, according to the team. They said it ‘adds useful information regarding mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women’.

As well as being unable to balance on one leg, elderly people who walk slowly are at much more risk of being sent to an early grave.

Researchers from France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research measured the walking speed of 3,200 over-65s, who were then followed for five years, on average.

Each participants’ speed was measured at three different points over the study period. This was done by asking them to walk down a six-metre long stretch of a corridor.

Results showed the slowest male walkers walked 90m/minute (one mile every 18 minutes), while the fastest walked faster than 110m/minute (one mile every 15 minutes).

Meanwhile, the slowest female walkers covered 81m/minute (one mile every 20 minutes), while the quickest did at least 90m/minute.

More than 200 deaths were logged, according to the results published in the British Medical Journal in 2009.

Analysis revealed that the slowest third of walkers were 44 per cent more likely to die by the end of the study, compared to the fastest group.

Researchers said fast walkers may be fitter and benefit from better cardiovascular health.


Adults are encouraged to do some type of physical activity every day. Exercise just once or twice a week can reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Over-18s should aim to:

Do strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least two days a week. This includes carrying heavy shopping bags, yoga, pilates and lifting weights.
Do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week. Moderate activity includes brisk walking, riding a bike, dancing and doubles tennis. Vigorous activity includes running, swimming and riding a bike fast or on hills.
Spread exercise evenly over four to five days a week, or every day
Reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity

Adults can also achieve weekly activity target with:

Several short sessions of very vigorous intensity activity. This includes lifting heavy weights, circuit training and sprinting up hills.
A mix of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous intensity activity

The simple exercise of sitting down and standing up again without holding onto anything could also suggest how long you have to live.

People who struggle to get down and back up without needing to support themselves are five times more likely to die young, researchers found.

A team of scientists Gama Filho University in Brazil recruited 2,002 people aged 51 to 80, who were asked to perform the sitting-rising test.

Participants, who were barefoot and wearing loose clothing, were told to lower themselves to the floor and cross their legs without using their hands, knees, elbows or side of their legs for support.

They were then asked to stand back up again, also without assistance.

Volunteers were given a score out of 10 for how well they did. Points were deducted for each support utilised or if volunteers slightly lost their balance.

The findings, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology in 2021, show 159 deaths were logged in study’s six-year period.

Results showed those who struggled the most to complete the test – meaning they scored zero to three – were 5.4 times more likely to die, compared to those who achieved the feat with ease.

The researchers said their findings identify those losing mobility, flexibility and muscle with age, which is a signal of poor health.

Being able to seamlessly walk up four flights of stairs may also indicate that you will avoid an early grave.

Researchers in Spain made over 12,000 people run on treadmills, making them gradually pick up the pace until they were exhausted. Their hearts were monitored simultaneously.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal in 2018, tracked the health of the volunteers for five years.

Death rates from all causes, as well as heart disease, were nearly three times higher in participants deemed to be in poor health, compared to their fitter peers.

Just 1.2 per cent of those performed well in the tests died, compared to 3.2 per cent of those who struggled with the workout.

While the participants underwent treadmill tests, the scientists behind the study said people could find out if they have good heart health if they can walk up three floors of stairs quickly without stopping, or four flights of stairs at a normal pace without a break.

Lead researcher Dr Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital in A Coruña, and colleagues, advised those who struggled with stairs to do more exercise to keeping their weight, blood pressure and inflammation down.

Being unable to give a firm handshake could also be a sign of impending death, if research is to be believed.

One study found that people with weak grips are up to 20 per cent more likely to die early.

Experts in Scotland examined the grip strength among 500,000 volunteers aged 40 to 69, using data from the UK Biobank, a massive database containing the health records of Britons.

Their grip strength was gathered using a tool called a hand dynamometer. Participants sat upright with their elbow by their side and flexed at a 90-degree angle, so their forearm was facing forward and resting on an arm rest.

The squeezed the tool with their right hand and then their left hand. The scientists logged the average maximum weight they could grip.

Some 13,322 participants died over the subsequent seven years, the University of Glasgow team found.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal in 2018, show that for every 5kg drop in participants’ grip strength, their risk of dying from any cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer increased by a fifth.

The researchers said grip strength acts as a marker of skeletal muscle health – which has a ‘critical’ role in the fight against cancer and diabetes.

Grip strength could identify people with muscle weakness who are at high risk of a wide range of diseases and might benefit from more health tests, they said.

People who struggle to complete 10 push ups are nearly twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who can manage 40.

An international team researchers set out to examine whether there is a link between physical fitness and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

They recruited 1,100 firefighters, who were regularly asked to complete as many push ups as they could between 2000 and 2010 at a local medical clinic.

During assessments, doctors set a metronome at 80 beats per minute and counted the number of push ups the firefighters completed in time until they reached 80, missed three or more beats or stopped.

Over the 10 years they were monitored, 37 were diagnosed with heart disease, according to the findings published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

But those who could do more than 40 push ups were 96 per cent less likely to suffer from one, compared to those who did fewer than 10.

They said push ups were a marker of muscle strength, which protects against deaths from all causes and high blood pressure.

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