Why good grip strength signals good health

Why good grip strength signals good health

How firm is your handshake?  How easy is if for you to twist off a lid on a jar that’s never been opened before?  It appears that the fate of your health lies in your hands – specifically how strong your grip is. A firm handshake can partially reveal the strength of someone’s grip along with other social cues.  But grip strength can also reveal a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke and their chance of dying from cardiovascular disease.


Study results on grip strength

An international study found associations between the strength of an individual’s grip and the likelihood of cardiovascular disease.  Almost 140,000 adults in 17 countries had their grip strength tested by researchers for an average of four years using a device called a dynamometer.  This study is the largest study to make the connection between health and strength of someone’s grip. 

A grip strength dynamometer is useful for testing hand grip strength with the purpose to measure the maximum isometric strength of the hand and forearm muscles.  Generally, if a person has a strong grip or hands, they tend to be strong elsewhere so it is often used as a test of strength.  This simple, inexpensive device could be a game-changer for health professionals to possibly be able to assess a person’s risk of disease.  However, one discovery from the study revealed that a weak hand grip is not associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cancer or other chronic conditions.

During the study, each 11-pound reduction in grip strength during the four years was linked to a 16% higher risk of dying from any cause.  Also found was a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, a 9% higher risk of stroke, and a 7% higher risk of heart attack.  Even after adjusting for other contributors to heart disease such as age, smoking, and lack of exercise, the connection between grip strength and cardiovascular disease remained high.

Another interesting finding from the study was that grip strength was a better predictor of death or development of cardiovascular disease than having high blood pressure.

Results from this study are now suggesting that measuring a person’s grip strength could be a good way to assess biological age too.  A person who has weak muscle strength is more likely to die sooner if that person develops a chronic medical condition when compared to others with more muscle strength.

Improving grip strength

Overall general health in hands is important.  Extension is just as important as flexion in the fingers which requires building the muscles on the top side of the hand and those on the other side.

By exercising all parts of your hand can help prevent an imbalance between muscles that help open and close the hands.  If muscles in the hands are overworked, this could lead to tendinitis for example.  A good way to strengthen both sides of hands is to place hands into a bowl of rice or sand while extending and flexing the fingers. 

A person can also improve their grip strength with a few simple workouts along with basic resistance training to build muscle two or three times each week.  Using dumbbells, weight machines or resistance bands all can improve strength not only in the hands but for an overall body workout.

Other ideas for improving grip strength that can be incorporated into everyday life include the following:

·      Do a newspaper roll – Place your hand on top of a sheet of newspaper, pulling the paper in with your fingertips until you roll the paper into a ball.

·      Grab a pair of dumbbells, the heavier the better.  Place one in each hand and hold tight as you walk around a room for as long as you can.

·      Do something as simple as lifting a milk carton for several reps every time you take it out or put in back in the fridge

·      Get something squishy or pliable such as a “stress ball” and keep it handy using it to “grip” throughout the day.  Search for “grip strength tools “ and there is a wide world of options to strengthen your grip