Hand Grip Strength as a Biomarker of Aging
Research has shown that hand grip strength is a significant predictor of mortality. Studies have consistently demonstrated a strong association between weak grip strength and faster aging. It can also be a warning sign for a higher risk of chronic diseases, even shorter life expectancy. As a reflection of overall physical health, those with better grip strength tend to have a healthier lifestyle and fewer chronic diseases.
In a 2015 study of almost 140,000 adults in high-, middle- and low-income nations, reduced handgrip strength was closely linked to mortality in people of all incomes, predicting risks for early death better than blood pressure, which is often considered one of the best indicators of life span.
How Grip Strength affects the Healthspan
Research shows that grip strength has a predictive power in relation to a range of health conditions. This includes cardiovascular disease or heart attack and strokes, bone mineral density and fracture risk, brain health or cognition. It is shown that a higher grip strength for your age and gender is associated with better health.
- Heart health
- Bone density, fracture risk, and falls
- Cognitive function
- Frailty and functional strength
- Injury prevention
1) Heart health
Studies have shown that grip strength is strongly correlated with cardiovascular health. In fact, a strong grip has been shown to be a better predictor of cardiovascular health than traditional measures like blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
2) Bone density, fracture risk, and falls
Low grip strength is a strong risk factor of osteoporosis in in post-menopausal women.
Since muscle strength is related to bone mineral density (BMD), it follows that grip strength is an indicator of bone strength in the hands and forearms. What is noteworthy is evidence of a relationship between grip strength and BMD at nonadjacent sites, bones not attached to muscles in the hand grip, like the spine and hip. Further studies confirm that weaker hand strength increases the incidence of falls and hip fractures as well as of fragility fractures.
A strong forearm and wrist can reduce the impact of a fall, preventing a more serious hip fracture.
3) Cognitive function
In older adults, a stronger grip is often linked to better cognitive performance, memory, and attention. Cognitive decline and dementia are common outcomes of aging that significantly affect the quality of life of elderly people. Sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle strength) leads to physical inactivity, and physical decline has been consistently associated with future cognitive decline.
Several studies have reported that poorer grip strength was associated with cognitive decline and onset of dementia.
Older individuals with low handgrip strength often show symptoms that can interfere with cognitive and physical performance, such as declines in mobility and balance and impairment in executive function and memory.
4) Frailty and functional strength
Frailty is a common concern among the elderly, characterized by weakness, increased vulnerability to stressors, decreased physical function, and susceptibility to injury. Hand grip strength can be an early indicator of frailty and a useful tool for assessing an individual’s risk.
Grip strength grows weaker as we age, which eventually begins to affect our day-to-day function. Simple things like opening jars, carrying groceries, and turning doorknobs are made difficult depending on the strength of the hands.
Stronger grip strength is often associated with increased functional independence in older adults and reduced likelihood of developing chronic pain or discomfort in the hands and forearms, which can have a significant impact on our overall quality of life.
5) Injury prevention
Weak grip strength can compromise stability and increase the risk of accidents, particularly falls when you cannot catch yourself. Strengthening the grip reinforces the tendons, ligaments, and muscles surrounding the joints, helping to stabilize them and reduce the likelihood of injuries.
Having a strong grip can help to reduce the risk of developing repetitive strain injuries like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. This is because a strong grip helps to improve the stability of the hand and wrist, reducing the likelihood of injury during repetitive or high-impact activities.
Measuring Hand Grip Strength
Grip strength is a measure of muscular strength, or the maximum force/tension generated by one’s forearm muscles. It can be used as a screening tool for the measurement of upper body strength and overall strength.
Hand grip strength is typically measured using a dynamometer, a simple handheld device that records the amount of force exerted by the hand when squeezing the instrument. The measurement is taken in kilograms or pounds, and the test usually involves three trials for each hand, with the highest value used for assessment.
Norms for Hand Grip Strength
Normative values for hand grip strength can vary based on age, gender, and population. Generally, grip strength tends to peak in the third decade of life and gradually declines with age. Below are some approximate norms for men and women over 50 years of age:
50-59 years: 85-115 lbs (38-52 kg)
60-69 years: 75-105 lbs (34-48 kg)
70-79 years: 65-95 lbs (29-43 kg)
50-59 years: 45-75 lbs (20-34 kg)
60-69 years: 40-70 lbs (18-32 kg)
70-79 years: 35-65 lbs (16-29 kg)
Strengthening Hand Grip
Improving hand grip strength is achievable through targeted exercises. Here are some effective strategies:
1) Hand Grippers: Hand grippers are portable devices designed to increase grip strength. Regular use can help build hand and forearm strength.
2) Resistance Training: Engage in resistance exercises like weightlifting, resistance bands, and bodyweight exercises to strengthen your overall upper body, including your grip. Wrist curls specifically target the wrists and forearms.
3) Squeeze Stress Balls: Stress balls or soft foam balls can help improve grip strength when squeezed repeatedly.
4) Theraband Original Bend Flex Bar (my personal favorite): Bend and twist a firm, ridged natural rubber bar.
In summary, hand grip strength is not just a measure of physical prowess; it’s a key indicator of longevity and overall health. It has direct implications for heart health, bone density, cognitive function, frailty, functional strength, and injury prevention.
Regular exercise and targeted grip-strengthening activities can help maintain and improve grip strength, enhancing your quality of life and well-being as you age. Monitoring your grip strength and taking steps to maintain or enhance it can lead to a longer, healthier, and more active life.
Disclaimer: The information presented in this article should not be construed as medical advice. It is not intended to replace consultation with your physician or healthcare provider.
For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out the book Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano .
Joan Pagano is the author of best-selling fitness books, including the new release Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014), an informational speaker on health and fitness topics and the owner of Joan Pagano Fitness in New York City. Former trainer to Jacqueline Onassis and Caroline Kennedy, Joan has specialized in strength training for women since 1988. She is an authority on the benefits of exercise for women's health issues such as menopause, osteoporosis and breast cancer, as well as strength training through the decades. Joan is the proud finisher of seven marathons and a member of the Shaker Heights High School Alumni Hall of Fame.
Visit Joan at: www.joanpaganofitness.com/