Is brain health a balancing act? In a new study from Japan, people who couldn’t stand on one leg for 20 seconds or longer had more brain changes linked to strokes and dementia than folks with better balance. 

Those who had difficulty with the test also scored lower on cognitive function than people who could hold the pose. 

One explanation: The researchers found that older people and people with a higher BMI did worse on the balance test. A body of literature suggests that advancing age and obesity are risk factors for stroke and dementia. 

(Strokes usually happen to old men—not young guys, especially NFL stars. But see How Tedy Bruschi Came Back from a Stroke.) 

However, there may be more to it. Prior research suggests that disease in the small blood vessels in your brain can compromise white matter important for various aspects of mobility, including balance. High blood pressure is often the culprit.  

Still, lots of factors can influence balance, so this test won’t tell you all you need to know. “It may detect subtle neurological dysfunction, but is very non-specific for stroke or any other particular problem,” says David Liebeskind, M.D., a neurology professor at UCLA and a Men’s Health advisor. 

Dr. Liebeskind recommends checking your blood pressure twice a year, since it has a more established link with brain health. And if you have hypertension—a BP of 140/90 mmHg or higher—then you’ll need to keep even closer tabs on your BP with the help of a doctor. 

(Is your ticker in trouble? Here’s How to Tell If Your Blood Pressure Is Too High.) 

If you notice major changes in balance, especially accompanied by problems such as falling, see your doctor, suggests Leslie Wolfson, M.D., a professor of neurology at the University of Connecticut. 

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