Studies show that grip strength, a simple measure of overall muscle strength, is one of the strongest (pun intended) predictor of chronic disease and all-cause mortality.1Corsi DJ, Subramanian SV, Chow CK, et al. Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study: baseline characteristics of the household sample and comparative analyses with national data in 17 countries. Am Heart J. 2013; 166: 636-646
In other words, the muscles of your hands, wrists and fingers that you use to grab, pull or carry things, open jars, do pull ups, or, if you’re so inclined, to hang on a monkey bar, determine better than almost anything to be associated with risk for a wide range of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and increased risk of premature death. Weak muscles, more frailty and worse outcomes; strong muscles, less frailty and generally better outcomes.
In a study published in 2015 in The Lancet, health outcomes of nearly 140,000 people across 17 countries were tracked over four years, using a variety of measures, including grip strength. Grip strength was not only “inversely associated with all-cause mortality” — every 5 kilogram (kg) reduction in grip strength was associated with a 17 percent risk increase. Research team leader, McMaster University professor of medicine Darryl Leong, noted, “Grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.”
Grip strength has even been found to correlate more closely with aging than chronological aging itself! 2Syddall, H., Cooper, C., Martin, F., Briggs, R., & Aihie Sayer, A. Is grip strength a useful single marker of frailty?” Age and Ageing 32, 650–656 (2003). Science shows that the preservation of muscle strength as we age, through physical activity and exercise, is a critical determinant of disease prevention and longevity.3McGrath, R. P., Kraemer, W. J., Snih, S. A., and Peterson, M. D. (2018a). Handgrip strength and health in aging adults. Sports Med. 48, 1993–2000. doi: 10.1007/s40279-018-0952-y
Some low grip strength correlations:
- More sarcopenia (muscle wasting)4Cruz-Jentoft, A.J., et al. Sarcopenia: European consensus on definition and diagnosis: Report of the European working group on Sarcopenia in older people. Age and Ageing 39, 412–23 (2010).
- Longer hospital stays and 3-fold increased risk of not being discharged alive 5Mendes, J., Alves, P., & Amaral, T.F. Comparison of nutritional status assessment parameters in predicting length of hospital stay in cancer patients. Clinical Nutrition 33, 466–470 (2014).
- Lowered cognitive performance6Björk, M.P., Johansson, B., & Hassing, L.B. I forgot when I lost my grip — strong associations between cognition and grip strength in level of performance and change across time in relation to impending death. Neurobiology of Aging 38, 68–72 (2016).
Unfortunately, as a society, our grip strength has declined 20% in one generation. Less manual labor, more automation, more TV shows, video games and social media consumption, and overall more sedentary lives may be to blame.
All this said, you may wonder if the people with the strongest grips live the longest. Unfortunately, researchers can’t make those claims. Men have stronger grips than women but women in general live longer. Just strengthening your grip does not ensure a long, healthy life, as there are many contributing factors at work.
Best to consider grip strength — and muscle strength in general — as a useful indicator of your own health and longevity trajectory.
What can you do?
- Get a baseline. Have your physician test your grip strength with a Jamar Hydraulic Hand Dynamometer
- Add strength (also known as resistance) training to your exercise routine
- Get free weights or just use your body weight at home
- Find loads of useful and free strength training videos online. I like FitnessBlender.com which offers a wide variety of levels and durations.
- Don’t think you have time? Consider the “7-minute workout.” Find the app called “7 Minute Workout Challenge” in the iTunes app store, or just do the Scientific 7 Minute Workout video with Kelli at FitnessBlender
- Don’t have 7 minutes? Consider the 4 minute metabolism-boosting workout with Zach Bush, MD
I hope you are more motivated now to include strength training in your exercise program! What are some of your favorite ways to work out? You might be interested in reading about how exercise has become Betsy’s autoimmune quality of life preserver.
Take good care!