Can you stand on one leg? For more than 20 seconds? 

New research indicates that your ability (or inability) to do so may give doctors a good indication of your stroke risk.

In a new study conducted at the Center for Genomic Medicine at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan, researchers evaluated the balancing ability of nearly 1,400 men and women, with an average age of 67. They asked each participant to attempt to balance on one leg for a minute. Each participant also had a brain MRI scan to look for "silent" strokes or microbleeds that may have occurred without notice.

The researchers found that subjects who had a harder time balancing on one leg for more than 20 seconds were also more likely to have had these tiny strokes. In addition to balance problems, participants who had silent strokes also experienced reduced cognitive and memory skills.

According to the study, which was published in a recent issue of the American Heart Association's journal Stroke, for the subjects who had experienced two or more tiny strokes, about one-third had trouble balancing. For those who had one stroke, 16 percent had trouble balancing.

The brain injuries caused by these so-called silent strokes may be too small to be noticeable or to cause problems. But health experts warn that they could lead to bigger problems down the road. Silent strokes are known to increase the risk of both full-blown strokes and dementia.

Thus, the balance test could be an easy and inexpensive way for doctors to evaluate a patient's overall stroke risk and follow up with more testing if needed.

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