July 29, 2009

Unfair and Unbalanced? The Real Age Balance Test

Photo: hojusaram

Think you have good balance? Well, wanna take a quick test and find out? MizFit alerted me to one a while back that tells you how "old" you are in terms of your balance.

I know I don't have great balance, but compared with others my age I figured it should be pretty decent. I get a lot of exercise and don't just sit in a chair all day, and that's gotta count for something, right?

So I took it, and here's how I scored:

Seriously. I can't say that I'm entirely pleased with the results.

So what exactly is the test, and is it accurate? And what should I do about my apparently crappy balance?

Here's How You Test Yourself:

Note: this is from the Real Age folks, and I'm already pretty darn skeptical of them. This does NOT make me like them any better than I did before.

Stand barefoot on a flat, hard surface. Ask a partner to hold a watch and try not to laugh at you stand close by in case you start to fall.

Close your eyes, lift one foot about 6 inches off the floor, bending your knee at a 45-degree angle. Ask your partner to start timing.

Now hold this position "without jiggling or teetering, falling, cursing like an inebriated sailor on shore leave or opening your eyes."

Stop timing "when the raised foot begins to lower or touch the ground, if you begin to sway, if you hit the ground with a big ugly splat or if you open your eyes."

Repeat the test three times and average the times.


4 seconds means you're the equivalent of 70 years old;
5 seconds means 65 years old;
7 seconds-- 60;
8 seconds-- 55;
9 seconds-- 50;
12 seconds-- 45;
16 seconds-- 40;
22 seconds-- 30-35;
28 seconds-- 25-30;

And presumably after 28 seconds people explode or something because the values just stop at that point.

Now of course this would a good place to rebut the test results with some scholarly article on how to really measure average functional balance, but unfortunately I couldn't find anything like that. So instead, you get an opinionated tirade on:

Why I Think This Test Is Complete Horsesh*t:

Three words: "Close Your Eyes."

This renders the test nearly impossible for me and others like me.

I am one of those humans who is very visual. I like to see things. I'm crap on the phone, for instance, and I hate when someone reads me instructions out loud. I don't trust any of my senses nearly as much as my visual sense.

When I can see, I can stand on one foot forever. Or at least until it gets really really boring. When I can see, I can do the elliptical at high speed with no hands, forward or backwards, or jump from rock to rock when hiking. I rarely fall down for no reason at all. In brief: I am not nearly as spastic and uncoordinated as this test would have you believe because you have to perform it with your eyes closed.

And I know the "close your eyes" thing makes it harder for everyone; that's on purpose. But some of us get more discombobulated than others when we close our eyes.

Even if I know I'm closing my eyes intentionally, this is how my brain processes it:




Needless to say, it is hard to calmly balance under these conditions. And since the test equates flailing with failing, I'm usually out within a few quick seconds. Even if I don't put my foot down right away, I'm teetering and swaying like a palm tree in a hurricane.

Since I'm not blind, nor do I live in a world without electric lighting when it is dark, there is no practical need for me to stand on one foot with my eyes closed. Other than to score better on a stupid test.

Which means: next time I'm balancing on one leg anyway to do quad stretches, I'm gonna start practicing doing it with my eyes closed. Because I hate flunking tests, even stupid ones!

Balance Exercises:

Motivated to improve your balance? Well, there's always yoga and Tai Chi and bosu balls and balance boards. But here are some balance exercises from the LiveStrong site; there are pages and pages of them, all accompanied by short animations. Warning: it appears that performing these exercises may make you extremely muscular and bald.

Video courtesy of LIVESTRONG.COM

Wanting to improve your balance? Think it's just fine as is? Doing anything to improve it?


  1. Im still falling over.

    that is all.

  2. I'm with you Crabby - eyes closed = falling over. Silly test.

    Note that when doing yoga, in seated or reclined postures, you are often encouraged to close your eyes. During tree pose - balancing on one foot - the suggestion is to find a spot to focus on because it helps you stay balanced.

  3. Agreed. Where do they come up with these things?

    Sometimes I think they are just playing a practical joke, like all the websites that say today is National Cheese Sacrifice Purchase Day. A way to get a laugh by spreading something over the web that doesn't cause computers to crash.

  4. Weird. I've always thought I had good balance (I took ballet for thirteen years!), and I routinely stand on one foot when I'm waiting in line (not sure why...something to do, I guess), but the second I closed my eyes, it all went to hell. According to your theory, it would make sense, because I depend almost entirely on the visual in my general life.

  5. Yeah, taking out the visual reference makes it pretty hard. My wife's a yoga instructor and she's great at the balancing poses, but have her close her eyes and all bets are off...

  6. I agree: that test is irrelevant to real life. And what's up with Mr. Clean there?

  7. I used to fall over all the time. Walking down the road and a sideways fall into the poison oak was a natural for me. I'd fall out of the car, fell through the deck, fell in a major intersection in downtown Seattle walking across the street. Nothing like a big fat lady falling to make your day.

    After I'd fall, I felt like a (fat) 70 year old. But now that I weigh less, I don't fall very often. My last fall was off the bike. I can't afford to fall much more so I'm not doing the test with my eyes closed.

    And if you did the test and gave the test results to the realage folks, you'd get a bunch of emails trying to sell you balance pills or the latest balance formula or the ride around scooter thing.

  8. Being a dancer , I would hope my balance is good. But there is no telling 'cause I'm a bit of a klutz as well. Great combo right? Klutzy dancer...lol!

    I'm definitely going to try this one when my roommate gets up! (I doubt I have the coordination to close my eyes, balance, and time myself...it has disaster written all over it!)

  9. CRAP! I work on my balance all the time. With flat feet that overpronate from hear till tomorrow, it is hard enough to valance on 2 feet with my eyes open!!! Anyone who is a bad overpronator will understand this! BUT, I still practice & I still tilt & fall! I hate not being able to do this crap so I keep trying!

    Thx for making me feel better today. At least you can't do it either & Miz said she falls too!

  10. And what of we who've had a broken leg? That kills balance on it and has nothing to do with age. Messed up a ligament in the other one a few years ago so that kills the balance. The test is a String of Bad Words. That said, my balance always lousy and closing my eyes is the last thing I should do if I want to remain upright.

  11. I guess we were given two feet for a reason :-)

  12. Funny how our minds freak out the second our eyes are closed. Balancing is tricky stuff!

  13. I'm with you in that I fail to see how it applies to daily life.

  14. This is almost impossible to do! I tried this once before and couldn't do it. Hanlie over on her blog talks about this today too!

  15. Important safety tip:

    Do this AFTER your workout. I learned this on the Wii Fit (don't judge me!). If I take their balance test before I work out, I'm, like 74. If I take it AFTER I work out (read: my muscles are warmed up and my proprioreceptors are awake, I am 18.

    Srsly. ;)

  16. I'm surprised this test does not have a place to enter your height. I have excellent balance, mostly due to the fact I am practically 3 feet tall, and my center of gravity is nearly on the floor...

  17. I'm not even going to try it. According to their measures, I'm probably already dead and buried. Bring me some flowers, willya?

  18. I'm down with any balance tests that involve my eyes being closed as long as I'm lying in a prone position at the time.

  19. ooh-thanks for the balance exercises. i foudn out this summer just how bad my balance was as I tried to get out to a restful place in the middle of a river and could *not* stop falling over. Once I got onto only 1 foot and the current was a little swift I was doomed...flailing like a 4 year old. Some nice man actually came out and helped me back in from the river because I jsut couldn't keep it together and get back to the shore :)

    I know without even trying that I am a senior citizen from this balance test. I'm definitely going to do some of those balance exercises...

  20. Hi Crabby,

    I do this a lot because two of my grandkids really like being able to stay in position longer than grandma. We always keep our eyes open. (No telling what the kids would do if I closed my eyes.)

    Plus, with my eyes open, my balance is years younger than I am, and that is a nice feeling. I don't think I've ever tried with my eyes closed.


  21. My right side is younger than my left side! Which makes even less sense when you consider that I have a wonky right knee!

  22. I've been clumsy all my life, and have been known to trip on flat surfaces. I was probably 70 years old when I was 4.

    My folks even had me take ballet lessons to improve my "grace" & coordination. Picture hippo in a tutu and feathers.

    I have no advice and instead have learned to wear padding. It helps.

  23. "Discombobulated"

    wow! You brought me back! My grandmother used to say that (or maybe it was discombooberated).

  24. Okay...the comment about my grandmother probably didn't make you feel any better, did it? :)

  25. Sheesh.
    You'd think my well-balanced diet would lead to me acing this test.
    No such luck.

  26. Yep, Crabby, I agree and I am just as skeptical as you are.

    I have heard, however, that some municipalities/states/countries use the eyes-closed-balance-on-one-foot as a field sobriety test. Right. I've tried this on my own and have found I don't need any alcohol whatsoever to fall over!

  27. I am always so proud of myself when I do the balance portion of the body test on the Wii Fit and get close to perfect. And then I go to workout and try and do single leg raises and fall over every.single.time. sigh.

    I think that the Real Age mumbo jumbo is along the lines of the BMI - pretty much a bunch of crap numbers that seem to be important but aren't, really.

  28. Agreed. I first heard about this test when I was dancing, and I had GREAT balance - until I closed my eyes. Then it was all over but the face-plant.

    I always wondered if I had something wonky in the structure of my inner ear, since that's supposed to have an effect on your balance, too. (I didn't wonder enough to get it checked out or do any further research, mind you - just an idle curiosity.)

  29. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
    Repeat that over and over. Turn the bottom foot that you are balancing on out a little bit. Lift your leg, find your center, THEN close your eyes.

    I tried it that way and managed to lower my "real age" by a whole year. Now my real age is only 96.

  30. You know, I can pass this test with flying colors but the stupid balance test on the Wii fit? According to that I'm 80. AND you get to keep your eyes open for that one! Wha...?

  31. I did this the other day, and my 42 year old husband scored in the 30 year old range. Me, I fell over after 2 seconds. I'm also very visual - I even hear better when I can see clearly.

    I have been practicing balance for months and I thought I had improved a great deal, but closing the eyes is a deal-breaker.

  32. Wow, gotta work my ankles...can't even do it with my eyes open. A friend told me that ppl who have had parts of the body removed have less sense of balance, so I am blaming the 1/2 breast on the right for that. Of course, why I fall that way, I am not sure...maybe the extra lymph fluid in the arm.

  33. How about this: Try to walk across a balance beam after running and biking a few miles. I had to do this as one of the obstacles during Muddy Buddy (you can read the race report on my blog) thinking it would be cake... until I almost fell quite a few times. Time to hit the playground!!! Great post today! Will def have to check out these stability exercises!

  34. I totally agree with you on being a visual person. Can't stand people reading out instructions to me, or phone numbers for that matter. With balance though, especially watching rows and rows of people in front of me teetering, I find concentrating on your breathing instead of balancing really helps. Distract the brain so it doesn't notice your eyes are closed!

  35. Spring Girl is right. If one takes a moment to center and relax, then "center" over the one foot that is planted and stay relaxed= for me at least I can stand balanced fairly serenely when my eyes are closed, but I still only got my actual age. Eyes open and knee slightly flexed, I'll stand there til my back locks up anyway. I was also chewing salad, don't know if that helps or not.

    I have a totally wrecked right side as far as ligament damage etc., so my right side lasts half as long as my left. I think the test is crap too, though. My balance used to be pretty good from riding bikes and spooky, athletic horses; and then my bike on rollers for over 30 years total. My better half and I were just talking about balance yesterday. Both of us were very sports oriented, and for me it all seemed to steady me everywhere. Now I'm fairly shot though, and feel like I should wear knee and elbow pads to go for a walk!

    Now I finally no longer walk into the door jamb instead of through the doorway half the time, but our whole house is tilted downhill. If we spin a marble in the living room it heads for the SW corner of the second bedroom. I used to feel like I was on a boat, now I'm used to it and compensate somehow. I can't figure out if that made the test harder or helped me.

    Don't let it bug you Crabby, you're still cute stuff and visual orientation is definitely more important in how some people are wired.

    I need to know, how does one purchase a cheese sacrifice? Am I in trouble if I make grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner (with a big healthy salad) as planned???

    PS: My word verification is "UNCHAI". Now how the heck do they know I can't stand the stuff?!

  36. I have a subscription to RealAge. Each day I see their message in my Inbox. I'm 33, according to RealAge and their "quizzes" I am about 98. Damn.

  37. Twenty-six years of wobbly yoga, here. I can stand on one foot, and wobble, for quite a while with my eyes open. Close them? Three seconds, max.

    Where did the RealAge people get this idea???

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  38. I've been doing martial arts for 4 and a half years now and I can't do this for more than 10 seconds. I say take the test with a grain of salt.

  39. Hi,

    I used to teach this exercise as part of a Pilates mat class. At 50ish I could do this for up to a minute easily and possibly longer if I had the time.

    As you age falls become the deadliest to seniors leading to broken hips etc.

    This exercise is very much like falling as when you are falling your are not finding the horizon nor anything else on which to visually focus. Especially slipping on ice. I believe that doing this exercise many times a week has given me the ability to recover when I lose my balance. Seriously, I have slipped on the icy sidewalk with one foot and have had no trouble keeping that other foot stable and regaining my balance without crashing to the sidewalk. I am now 63 and I still if I slip on a surface that I was not expecting to be slippery, I recover and easily. And I do not think that would be the case without this training. The longer you work with eyes closed and one leg off the floor (I take it in circles etc.) the stronger your core gets and the brain can fire the correct core muscles to recover your loss of balance.

    Another one I taught was to close the eyes and rise up to tiptoes and raise your arms up to the sky at the same time.

    Just my 2 cents, but please do not discourage this exercise, I swear by the benefits to the aging population.

    Cheers, Judy


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