Grip strength, an essential vital sign, often overlooked by doctors

Grip strength, an essential vital sign, often overlooked by doctors


The Surprising Importance of Grip Strength for Health and Longevity

Aug. 1, 2023 – Most people associate a “firm handshake” with the business world. However, what many don’t realize is that a handshake can reveal more than just your social skills. In fact, grip strength may be one of the most revealing indicators of your current health, future illnesses, and even your lifespan.

The Hidden Insights Revealed by Grip Strength

When you visit a doctor, they typically measure vital signs like temperature, weight, heart rate, and blood pressure. These provide a snapshot of your current health and potential future risks. But there is a strong case to be made for including grip strength in these measurements.

Grip strength testing is simple, quick, and noninvasive. All it requires is a handgrip dynamometer, a tool that costs less than a stethoscope, and a chair. By measuring the amount of force you can generate with your hand, grip strength serves as a valid proxy for total-body strength, which is a key factor in healthy aging.

Studies have shown that low grip strength is associated with various health risks, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Functional disability
  • Osteoporosis
  • Premature death from any cause

These associations have been documented across different populations, from older adults to children and adolescents. Grip strength has proven to be a valuable predictor of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall health outcomes.

The Evolutionary Advantage of Strong Grip

The connection between grip strength and health outcomes may seem perplexing. How can such small muscles in the hand and forearm impact so many life-and-death consequences?

The answer lies in our evolutionary history. Stronger hands were advantageous to our ancestors, indicating their ability to excel in survival tasks such as hunting, fighting, building shelter, and caring for children. The stronger individuals were more desirable mates, which led to healthier offspring. Strength has always been a key factor in survival, and this principle still applies today.

Grip Strength and the Aging Process

Grip strength is particularly relevant to the aging process. Early studies used grip strength as a measure of nutritional status among elderly individuals. Nourishment, a major factor in maintaining health, predicted their ability to survive illnesses and surgeries successfully.

Moreover, research conducted at the University of Michigan found that low grip strength is correlated with faster biological aging at the cellular level. Accelerated DNA methylation, a reflection of someone’s exposure to life events, increases the risk of age-related chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, and premature mortality. This further emphasizes the importance of grip strength as an indicator of overall health.

Grip Strength and Muscle Function

Declining muscle function is often the first step towards physical limitations and disability. Handgrip testing allows researchers to assess muscle function and strength easily, making it a valuable tool for identifying individuals at risk for declines in physical performance.

While grip strength’s associations with various health outcomes are well-established, measurements of the rate of force development, repeatability, and asymmetry can provide additional insights into potential neural or neuromuscular issues. A 2020 study revealed that older adults with both weakness and asymmetry in grip strength were nearly four times more likely to experience functional limitations, impacting their ability to perform daily tasks.

Utilizing Grip Strength Data

Once grip strength data is obtained, the challenge lies in utilizing it effectively. Defining weakness based solely on grip strength cutoffs is not sufficient. Age, body mass, and individual differences all play a role in interpreting the results accurately.

For example, age-based standards for grip strength differ for men and women since peak grip strength occurs at different stages of life. Additionally, considering grip strength in relation to body mass, or the strength-weight ratio, provides a more comprehensive understanding of its implications for health and function.

If weakness is identified, the solution is clear: exercise. Incorporating strength-focused activities into daily routines can help improve grip strength, overall muscle function, and ultimately, quality of life. Forearm exercises are not necessary to strengthen grip alone; any exercise that targets overall muscle strength will contribute to hand and forearm muscle function.

Conclusion: Strength Leads to Health and Longevity

In a world where physical activity is often neglected, the importance of strength for health and longevity remains undeniably true. Grip strength offers valuable insights into an individual’s overall health, predicting the risk of future illnesses and mortality.

Getting stronger, regardless of the approach or the level of improvement, translates to less weakness and more life. Whether it’s through resistance training, tai chi, water aerobics, or any form of exercise, taking steps to increase strength can have a positive impact on one’s overall well-being. So, start strengthening those muscles and embrace the benefits of a firm grip for a healthier and longer life.

References: – Forbes: “Seven Super-Revealing Things Your Handshake Says About You” – Inc.: “How a Handshake Can Tell You Everything You Need to Know About a Person”