Does the Sitting-Rising Test Really Predict How Long You'll Live?

girl sitting in lotus position

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This popular test of mortality seems too simple to be true – is how easily you sit down and get up from the floor really an indicator of longevity?

In 2012, a study was published in which researchers designed a simple test to predict mortality in a group of 2,002 adults 51 to 80 years old. Called the sitting-rising test (SRT), the challenge sounds pretty simple: Lower yourself from standing to sitting, and then get back up – but without using your hands. When perfectly executed, participants received a score of 10; points were detracted for using hands, unsteadiness, and other factors. As a measure of muscular strength and flexibility, the researchers found that those who had the lowest score (zero to three) had a risk of death that was five to six times higher than those who scored eight to 10 points.

And ever since, legions of people have been trying to sit down and stand up again. Stories about it go viral, SRT prowess becomes a social media boasting point, and maybe some of us who weren’t particularly graceful at it have been secretly practicing. Not naming any names here...

You can see successful and not-so-successful attempts in the video below.

The Science Behind Getting Up

In theory it makes sense – as the lead author of the study, Claudio Gil Araújo, said at the time, “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 favorable influence on life expectancy.” But I have often wondered just how accurate is it? So I was pleased to see recently that journalist Erin Strout decided to tackle the topic for The Washington Post.

She asked, “Sure, the test is a good measure of leg and core strength, as well as balance ... But what if you can’t do it? Are you doomed? Should you plan for an early demise?” My thoughts exactly. She continues:

“Luckily, a few more variables apply to our health (and our longevity) than those this particular test focuses on. It’s important to remember that the study results are most relevant to those the same age as the subjects in the testing group, who were ages 51 and up — a point often lost in discussion. Most of the people who scored the lowest on the test were in the 76-to-80 age range, a group that generally experiences decreased mobility and coordination. The research also didn’t reveal the causes of the 159 deaths during the follow-up period. Should we assume they all died of complications from falling, instead of cardiovascular disease or cancer? We don’t know.”

For sure, the test is a good method for determining one’s loss of muscle as a person ages; that loss can lead to decreased mobility and a corresponding decrease in quality of life, explains Greg Hartley, president of the Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy.

“Frailty, strength, muscle mass, physical performance – those things are all correlated to mortality, but I would caution everybody that correlation doesn’t mean causation,” Hartley says.

Other Health Factors to Consider

Other experts agree, noting that a perfect score on the test is tricky for most people in the first place, and not acing it could be due to other factors, like a bum knee or where one carries their weight – things that likely aren’t going to cause early mortality.

“[A high score] is a sign that at that point in time, you’re in pretty good physical condition in terms of muscle strength, but I do not believe it’s a predictor of longevity,” Barbara Resnick, professor and chair of gerontology at the University of Maryland, told Strout. “There’s a genetic component. Some people are just stronger physiologically and more coordinated than others.”

Strout goes on to discuss other kinds of screening tools that doctors use to measure health and longevity, likes ones involving walking speed and push-ups. So rest assured, if you can’t sit and rise easily, you may nonetheless score well on alternative challenges.

The bottom line here is that yes, the SRT seems to have validity, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. If you crumble into a heap as you try to sit, it doesn’t mean you need to start writing your will. Most importantly, let it inspire you to start (or boost) your physical activity — of which Resnick says “it’s beneficial and increases life expectancy no matter when you do it.”

In the end, even if you can’t sit and rise with ease, consider this nugget from the American Heart Association: “For each hour of regular exercise you get, you gain about two hours of additional life.” Which is the kind of (ok, yes, magical) math I like ... even if I'm not so graceful in the sitting and rising department.

Read more at The Washington Post.