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Can the sit-to-stand test really predict how long you’ll live? Experts weigh in

Can a quick, simple test predict how much longer you’ll live?

If it sounds a little sketchy to you, you’re on the right track. 

The so-called sit-to-stand—or sitting-rising—test has made headlines off and on for roughly a decade, with some claiming it can inform you of how likely you are to die in the next several years.

The basis for these claims: a 2012 study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that called the test a “significant predictor of mortality” among those ages 51 to 80, over a span of six years. Those with a low score—compiled from repeated tests, with tips on how to improve given in between—were five to six times more likely to die over that period than those with a score in the reference range.

How the sit-stand works

Participants are told to stand barefoot, then sit on the floor and attempt to rise “using the minimum support that you believe is needed,” according to the study. Each participant starts with five points, and one point is subtracted for each support utilized, like a hand, forearm, knee, or side of the leg. After the test is repeated multiple times, a final score is calculated.

But the test isn’t a true predictor of mortality, Jennifer Tripkin, associate director for the Center of Healthy Aging at the National Council on Aging, tells Fortune.

“It is simply an indicator, and poor results are associated with poor health,” she says, adding that other factors like genetics and body composition play into longevity.

Drew Contreras, vice president of clinician integration and innovation at the American Physical Therapy Association, agrees. “One’s overall health should be taken into context when thinking of predictors of mortality,” he says.

“One could be overall healthy, but have undergone a recent surgery, which would make this exercise difficult,” he tells Fortune. “There are many factors to consider.”

The test isn’t worthless, though. For adults of all ages, it’s a good indicator of strength, balance, and flexibility—skills that are all the more important for older adults, who are more prone to falls.

Unfortunately, doctors usually don’t perform the test unless someone is at an increased risk of falls or complains of muscle weakness, Tripkin says. But it’s a test you can easily do yourself at home.

How to perform the sit-to-stand test at home

Tripkin recommends a slightly different version of the test: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 30-Second Chair Stand assessment.

Here’s how:

  1. Grab a straight-backed chair without arm supports—about 17 inches high—and a stopwatch.
  2. Sit in the middle of the chair.
  3. Cross your arms and grab the shoulder opposite each.
  4. Keep your feet flat on the floor, back straight, and arms against your chest.
  5. When you or someone else says “go,” stand fully, then sit back down again.
  6. Count the number of times you can do this in 30 seconds. If you’re more than halfway to standing when the timer goes off, count it as a stand.

Below average scores are correlated with an increased risk of falls, the CDC says. Here’s how to tell where you stand—figuratively:

  • For those ages 60-64, a below average score is less than 14 for men, and less than 12 for women.
  • For those ages 65-69, a below average score is less than 12 for men and less than 11 for women.
  • For those ages 70-74, a below average score is less than 12 for men and less than 10 for women.
  • For those ages 75-79, a below average score is less than 11 for men and less than 10 for women.
  • For those ages 80-84, a below average score is less than 10 for men and less than 9 for women.
  • For those ages 85-89, a below average score is less than 8 for both men and women.
  • For those ages 90-94, a below average score is less than 7 for men and less than 4 for women.

Whether or not you can rise from a chair may seem trivial, but it’s not. Those who can’t get up without support risk “becoming more inactive and, thus, having their mobility further impaired,” Tripkin says.

What’s more, a low score on the test indicates an increased risk of falls—and falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related death in older adults.

How to improve your score on the sit-to-stand test

The good news: “Strength, balance, and flexibility can be improved, no matter your age or your score,” Tripkin says. Not in love with yours?

Here are a few things you can do to improve it, according to Tripkin:

  • “Get moving and stay moving” with a regular exercise program—but check with your doctor or physical therapist first.
  • “Enjoy and find purpose in exercise.” Maybe you don’t enjoy strength training—but you do enjoy picking up your grandkids or hobbies like gardening, which require strength.
  • Lower leg strength can be improved by Tai Chi.
  • The chair rise exercise, specifically, can improve your score. The CDC offers instructions here.

Above all, Tripkin sees the sit-to-stand test as “an opportunity to know your current level of strength and flexibility and take steps to improve,” she says.

“It’s well known that having high levels of flexibility, muscle strength, and balance are not only good for performing daily activities, but have a positive association with life expectancy,” she adds.

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