The sit-rise test: trying to get up to save my life

At yoga class last Monday, our teacher showed us a deceptively simple move she calls ” just stand up”. You sit cross legged on the floor (or a yoga block) and then get up to a standing position without using your arms. Or (as in my case), you don’t.

I found this task both practically and conceptually impossible while sitting on the floor. Sitting on one yoga block, I couldn’t do it cross legged ( although I could imagine doing it, and actually did it with legs wide apart). Once I sat cross legged on two yoga blocks I was able to stand up, albeit ungracefully.

Now I find that some researchers consider this yoga party trick to be a good predictor of all cause mortality– this is, how long we are likely to live.

Guess I’d better get my affairs in order now.

The test in question is called the sit rise test. Here’s a description from a USA Today article:

The goal is to get down and back up from a sitting position with minimal support. It can be used in all age groups, and results are based on a scale of one to 10. Score three or less and your risk of dying is five times greater over the next five years.It may look and sound easy, but here’s how it’s done.

You cross your feet, and go into a seated position. That’s five points. Coming back up is another 5. But you can lose points really fast.You lose a point for each hand, arm or knee you need for support. Take off a half-point when you lose your balance at any time, either on the way down or coming back up.Total them all for your final score.

If you have bad knees or hips, don’t try this alone.

Researchers in Brazil did this test on 2002 people aged 51–80. They claim that lower sit-rise test scores were associated with higher mortality risk.  Predictably, the popular press picked up on this, splashing the bad news across the headlines with glee.  The Daily Mail delivered the message in most dramatic fashion.

News article caption, reading: "The exercise that predicts your DEATH: Struggling with 'sitting-rising' test means you're 5 times more likely to die early"

They get points for the all-caps use of the word ‘death’, but I’m not buying it. Why not? A few reasons.

When I went to the source– the study itself-– I saw tables that show increased mortality risks for groups with lower sit-rise scores.  Groups that had to use hands or knees a lot  to aid sitting down and/or standing up had an average risk 5 times higher than the group that did this task with little aid by hands or knees.  Does this really mean that not being able to do this means you’re 5 times more likely to die than the get-up-easily group?  NO.  When you look at the table with the results, we also see that the average age of the low scorers is 71, whereas the average age of the high scorers is 59.  You can see this same info illustrated in this very interesting graph:

Graph from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology article showing the division of sit-rise test scores across the age groups in the study.
Graph from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology article showing the division of sit-rise test scores across the age groups in the study.


What this data seems to show is that younger age groups had higher sit-rise test scores.  What is more interesting to me (and I think should be to all of us) is the trend we see in the red bar (low scorers).  From ages 51–60, low scorers are a small part of the group.  It would be interesting to try this on younger people too– I bet there will be a small percentage of low scorers there, too, for a bunch of reasons.

At 61–65, the percentage of low scorers increases but is still small.  However, starting at 66–70, the percentage doubles.  And for each age group after that we see big increases in the low score groups.  This tells me that at certain age thresholds, mobility really decreases.  This is a call to action– people in those groups can use some programs to help maintain their flexibility, balance, agility, leg strength, etc.  But this is no news.  And it’s not a sign (or a new sign) that definitely shows death risk– it just shows that aging brings with it some decreases in function that can and should be addressed through exercise programs and aids in homes and public places to make them safer for older people.

Other limiters: people with knee problems and arthritis won’t score well on this test regardless of age. People with shorter legs tend to score better (except for me, apparently). Also this test was done on a small and mostly white population in a culture where sitting in the floor isn’t commonly done. It’s not clear how it would play out on other populations and in cultures where movement patterns differ. In addition, the test couldn’t be applied to people with a host of varied disabilities, so it doesn’t seem generalizable.

Sam posted about this test a while ago here.   Since she does Aikido, she’s pretty good at rolling around on the floor and getting up without using arms or knees. In yoga, we  work on a variety of balance and flexibility and strength skills.  I like them–  for me,  they are fun personal challenges. But if my body resists some of them, instead of shopping online for funeral urns, maybe I’ll work on some other strength and flexibility moves instead.

For instance: a kayak party trick I’d like to master is being able to stand up in your boat without immediately tipping over. In my women’s kayak classes (see my post about it here) they showed us how to do this, and some people did it ( with a person stabilizing their boat, and some on their own). I felt way too awkward even to try. But now I’m thinking that getting more comfortable with moving and lifting and balancing my body under unusual conditions is probably very good for it and me. So I’m going to keep my eyes open for interesting new body balance and strength challenges.

Just out of curiosity, can you do the sit rise thing? What do you think about this test? Do you have any physical party tricks you can or want to do? I’d love to hear from you.

13 thoughts on “The sit-rise test: trying to get up to save my life

  1. As I was told you didn’t have to do it from that position. The test is getting from the ground in anyway without your arms. That’s way easier than doing it from cross legged. And I don’t think the research is on doing it from cross legged.

  2. I couldn’t even do it in high school, when I was an elite athlete. Now? No freakin’ way! I would, though, like very much to have my knees slightly more usable than they are now!

  3. I couldn’t do it from cross legged position. But I was able to shift to my knees and then stand without using my hands. Even this requires conscious thinking or planning.

  4. I do it all the time, and it regularly freaks people out. It’s my usual way of getting up when I sit on the floor which I do often. Seems natural and easy to me!

  5. It’s depends on the time of day. First or last thing in the day I can hardly move. When I’m warmed up I need a knee assist to get up.
    I do like party tricks because they are fun & surprising.
    I can kick high and can almost do a standing split. It feels like when I did cartwheels. Wheeeeeeee!

  6. I just tried sitting down and getting up without hands from carpeted floor, while cross-legged. I did it..

    I can see how anyone with bad knees and hips should not try too hard and use a hand to support themselves without shame.

    The cultural moves of sitting on floor or low to the floor: I don’t care about sitting on the floor. But for many decades, I found simply sitting, crouching on the floor with my bum off the ground, actually more relaxing. I have noticed among some Asians even here in Canada if they were raised overseas prior to ie. 1970’s or so, they might still sit crouched, bum off the ground to relax, do simple task or when they are around very young children, who are crawling around. I also think this natural style of crouching low, habits nowadays more among those raised in rural parts of the least in Asia.

  7. At first it seemed impossible as I sat cords-legged on the floor and thought about a strategy. Then, after watching my God-daughter’s husband (a fit and agile cross fit coach) do it, I saw potential. From totally seated, I decided to take one point for a hand push to get me started. Once I had that initial little nudge I could easily get up. Down was no problem. Nine points. But I find the science “interesting”. Thanks for blogging about it!!

  8. I read this in bed this morning, waking up. And of course I had to try it right away. Fail! But I remembered that my stability and strength varies through the day and from day to day. Just did it know. So what does it tell? That I will more likely die in the morning? Lol

  9. Sounds like it’s basically a test of balance. People with good balance are less likely to fall, break a hip, etc. It’s probably also correlated with overall fitness, since being active develops balance. I wouldn’t read much into it.

  10. When I first read about this “test,” it was news to me that anyone who wasn’t a trained gymnast could do it. I would never have been able to do this (and I work out regularly in the weight room and the pool), and I don’t think most of my high school friends could have managed it, either. And I’ve always been pretty healthy (got arthritis now, unfortunately). Actually I think it’s fraudulent to make a test out of a motion that many people have never practiced.
    As for squatting on my heels–no way. I’ve seen little kids do it, and people from other cultures do it, but someone who’s got tight, weak hamstrings–uh uh. Not when I was a youngster, and not now.
    Reminds me of how hardly anyone in my high school gym class could do a pull-up. Because the only time we ever even had to TRY them was during fitness testing.

    1. I would rather squat than try a bar pull-up: I have weak upper body strength..this much I know. Even as a kid, it stunned me to see my schoolmates shimmy up a rope in gym class. I couldn’t do it..we did have those ropes in my public school gymnasium.

  11. The DEATH imagery is preposterous! But here’s a fun no-hands stand-up technique I recall from an aikido exercise. It’s much less balance-risky than the pretzel-standing trick, and may work for a wider range of bodies.

    From sitting cross-legged, extend one leg comfortably forward (not straightening or locking the knee, and leaving the other heel close to hips — probably keeping your stronger leg tucked, to start). Then, get ready to reach both hands forward, almost like touching toes toward the extended foot. But then think instead about reaching as far as you can to grab an invisible rope out there where the extended foot is (right between where both feet would be, if the second foot were also extended). Imagine grasping the rope and not letting go to give yourself leverage while “pulling” firmly on the invisible rope to bring hips up and forward. As soon as your hips are raised above tucked leg, you’re on your way to a stable one-knee position.

    A variation (because admittedly I cannot do the above with my injured-knee leg tucked): from cross-legged sitting, bring one knee up so that that foot is stable on the ground in front of the other (still tucked) foot. Reach energetically forward toward where your feet would be *if* they were extended, and grab that spot to pull hips forward along the same invisible rope. Either way, the idea is bring the center of gravity (especially the head, which is heavy!) far enough over one or both feet so that there’s momentum for rising without losing balance.

    I’ll be curious if any of you try it and have feedback!

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