Predicting Longevity: Sit Down and Stand Up

Look, it’s not like I have anything against the crystal ball. In fact, I use the exquisite glasses my mother left me for the holiday of Passover, and they happen to be crystal.  But I’m just a wee bit skeptical about its powers to predict how many more years I’ll be spending on this planet.

And although I never case to be amazed by the powers of the human hand (did you know–and I’m willing to bet you did not–that about a quarter of the motor cortex of our brains  [as it sounds, that’s the part which controls all body movement] is concentrated on the muscles of the human hands?), I’m underwhelmed by the argument that one of the wrinkles in the aforesaid hand actually has the power to say how long I’m going to live . It helps convince the reader when that life line actually has a scientific name–it’s the ‘thenar crease.’  Less likely to hear that term spoken by your local fortune teller.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one unconvinced by the thenar crease method of predicting longevity. Researchers–and authors of an alternative prediction technique–Leonardo Barbosa Barreto de Brito, Djalma Rabelo Ricardo, Denise Sardinha Mendes Soares de Araujo, Plınio Santos Ramos, Jonathan Myers and, Claudio Gil Soares de Araujo, all based in Brazil except for [now, really, based on the names, do I need to say it?] Jonathan Myers, clearly were looking for something more than a line in a hand.

Now, really, it’s hard for me to go ahead and present my material with a completely straight e-face, but, apparently these enterprising and scholarly Brazilians actually came up with a simple, appealing method for predicting longevity. Although the study lacks a choice academic piece (where, oh where, are the words ‘double blind?’), it was, indeed, published in a peer-reviewed journal.

I warn you that this is a little hard to believe–unless you’ve already ahead of me thanks to the ubiquity of the Internet–the authors ran a study in which they analyzed 2002 subjects aged between 51 and 80 years at the time of evaluation.  The subjects “were followed-up from the date of the baseline test until the date of death or 31 October 2011, a median follow-up of 6.3 years.”

And what did these subjects do to provide that crucial but well-hidden information about their own mortality?


Well, they sat down and stood up. For real.

The authors clarify, “While cardiorespiratory fitness is strongly related to survival, there are limited data regarding musculo-skeletal fitness indicators. Our aim was to evaluate the association between the ability to sit and rise from the floor and all-cause mortality.”

They even gave this sitting/standing test initials, like all the best researchers, and it became, in the study, the SRT (sitting-rising test). Just briefly, the subjects were told, “Without worrying about the speed of movement, try to sit and then to rise from the floor, using the minimum support that you believe is needed.’ ” Then the subjects were scored on their way up and down, with a maximum of 5 each way, losing a point for each support they used (one for a hand, let’s say, or one for a knee).

And–kooky as this might sound–the higher scores were indicative of longer life. Write the authors, “While the vast majority of the deaths were found in those participants with low SRT scores, just one male, aged 64 years, and one female, aged 54 years, died having an SRT score of 10 during follow up.”

They always say truth is stranger than fiction.

At any rate, if you’d like to see the article for yourselves–and really, why not? It’s not a terribly hard read; it logs in at 7 pages, but pp.6-7 are just references, and there are really pretty charts that take up most of p.4–just click right on to the title, which may lack something in creativity but loses no points for clarifying what the piece will be about: “Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality.”

You can even watch a video of the sitting-rising test, which is interesting, although, in my mind, it has a few drawbacks. First, it is in what I can only assume, given my utter lack of foreign languages, to be Brazilian, and, although the English translation is on the bottom, I always feel something is lost in translation.  Also, given how things went when we tried this little sitting/standing test just among our own family members, I expected utter hilarity from the film.  I was sorely disappointed, and will have to get my jollies elsewhere.  For those of you who are both more educated and more grown-up than I, feel free to take a look, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCQ2WA2T2oA. 

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