The first episode of the BBC series, How To Stay Young broadcast earlier this month, introduced the television audience in the UK to the Sitting-Rising Test. See the video at the foot of the page showing the relevant section from the programme.
Background to the Sitting-Rising Test
This Sitting-Rising Test was developed as part of a research study carried out in Brazil by Dr Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo and his team, the findings of which were published in 2012.
While research findings consistently show that cardiorespiratory fitness is strongly related to survival, limited data exists regarding musculoskeletal fitness indicators. The aim of Dr Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo’s research was to evaluate the association between the ability to sit and rise from the floor and all-cause mortality. 2002 adults aged 51–80 years (68% of which were men) were asked to perform a Sitting-Rising Test (SRT) to and from the floor.
The pictogram below explains the SRT. Click on the image to view it in more detail…
The sample of 2002 adults was followed up on average 6.3 years later. 159 of those people had died (7.9% of the total). The findings showed that lower Sitting-Rising Test scores were associated with higher mortality rates. People who scored low on the test were twice as likely to die within the next six years compared with those who scored higher. Those with the lowest scores were more than five times as likely to die within the same period. These findings led the researchers to conclude that musculoskeletal fitness, i.e. strength and flexibility, as assessed by SRT, was a significant predictor of mortality in the 51–80-year-old subjects.
Is the Sitting-Rising Test Valid and Safe?
The findings of the research look convincing, don’t they. However, the Sitting-Rising Test isn’t now systematically used by the medical profession to predict patient mortality risk, which is arguably a key indicator of whether or not it is considered a sound diagnostic tool. Although the Sitting-Rising Test is used to some degree – mostly for people recovering from a stroke – it is not used as an assessment of mortality.
An article on the SRT by Stephen Propatier at Skeptoid, takes a closer a look at the findings and points out various structural flaws in the research study. Here are the main points from Propatier’s critical analysis…
- the scoring system adopted by researchers was extremely subjective, e.g. the researchers decided if a hand was used and by how much and graded participants accordingly. This lacks the kind of clinical detachment normally required in such studies.
- the study had a small sample size with too many confounding variables, i.e. the sample had a big age range and didn’t separate the sexes.
From my reading of the research, other health issues, which may have affected the rate of mortality didn’t appear to be factored into the study. Neither did matters such as the physiology of the participants; a short and stocky person, for example is arguably much more predisposed to performing the Sitting-Rising Test well than someone who is tall and gangly.
My personal view is that the Sitting-Rising Test may be a useful predictor of general fitness. I also believe that performing the test may do more harm than good. The force on the leg joints at such an acute angle as you lower yourself to the floor then try to rise, could cause a painful injury, particularly if the person performing the manoeuvre is overweight, has osteoporosis, or has had problems in their knee, hip or ankle joint in the past. The potential for falling over and hurting yourself while trying to execute the test is also quite high.
UPDATE: The BBC has now included the following disclaimer for the episode on iPlayer of How To Stay Young that features the Sitting-Rising Test: The sit to rise test should only be done in a controlled environment and if you are in any doubt consult medical advice.
I rest my case!
Pilates as a more valid test of musculoskeletal fitness
A safer, more thorough and arguably more valid indicator of your musculoskeletal strength and flexibility would be your ability to perform well a small number of key Pilates exercises…under the supervision of a fully qualified and experienced Pilates teacher, of course. These are as follows:
- kneeling spine stretch
- thread the needle
- sitting curl back
- diamond press
- abdominal curl
- squats against the wall
To learn how to execute the above Pilates exercises well (in addition to many other valuable exercises) and to have the chance to practise them regularly as a means of improving your musculoskeletal health, why not join one of the many Pilates classes I run in Clevedon and Bristol.