Think back to a time when you were carrying heavy bags with groceries, had to open a firmly fixed lid on a jar, or were using a screwdriver for a long while. Presumably, you felt pain or at least discomfort in a hand that was grasping those objects. For doing these activities we have handgrip strength.
The importance of grip strength is often underestimated and it’s rare we complete purposeful movements in our workouts to improve it. But besides being a humble servant of everyday tasks, grip strength can give you eternal knowledge about your health and lifespan and not just a capacity to pick up and carry your products from a store.
What is grip strength?
Try to remind yourself what grip strength is by recalling the dynamometer test, most people must have performed it at a PE class at school. Yes, that device you had to squeeze as hard as possible. That test was aimed at showing how strong your muscles are.
Technically, grip strength is the amount of force you can exert with your hand to hold or grasp an object. It is a measure of the strength of the muscles in the hand and forearm.
Grip strength – a good indicator of overall health: Why should you care about your grip strength?
Grip strength is of utmost importance in such sports as ice hockey and horse racing. One of the best grip strength scores of 180 lbs (81.6 kg) belongs to Luke Opilka and Samuel Dove-McFalls, both hockey players.
The strength of your grip is crucial for lifting weights and achieving good workout results. If grip strength is weak, lifting heavy weights or doing pull-ups will be limited.
But, let’s say you are not into weightlifting workouts and are not intending on becoming an ice hockey player. So what? Why do you even need to care about this grip strength? With good grip strength, all sorts of everyday tasks become easier to complete, from carrying grocery bags to controlling your dog on a leash and picking up your children.
Furthermore, there is something about grip strength that goes beyond those ordinary everyday activities. Grip strength is scientifically proven to be a reliable and accurate health and mortality indicator. An analysis of over 14 studies on hand grip strength revealed that people with weak grip strength have almost 1.7 times higher risk of death when compared to people with ‘good’ HGS.
Grip strength as you age
As we age, we tend to lose our grip strength. Some researchers suggest that grip strength is a biomarker of ageing. It has been shown that as we age, we tend to lose muscle mass in the body, which leads to a decrease in grip strength. It is known that ageing causes a decrease in muscle mass (and function) at a rate of 1% per year from the time we reach middle age. The result of this can be a loss of up to 50% of muscle mass in the elderly by the time they reach 80-90 years of age.
Nine science-based proofs that grip strength is a great health indicator and lifespan predictor
At a first glance, grip strength seems to be a very superficial indicator of just your strength and muscle health. But it’s not as simple at all. Overall, grip strength is correlated with almost all your body parts and diseases that may occur.
1Predicts death from all-cause
As a marker of overall muscle strength, grip strength is associated with all-cause mortality, then it can serve as a predictor of health status and functional ability. Evidence suggests that handgrip strength is inversely related to all-cause mortality. Regardless of age or follow-up length, a meta-analysis of 2,000,000 participants found that handgrip strength was associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality.
Recent meta-analyses combined 33 studies on all-cause mortality and showed a reduced risk of 31% mortality for higher versus lower levels of grip strength.
2Indicates risks of cardiovascular death and diseases
Handgrip strength is positively correlated with cardiovascular health. This is due to the fact that having more muscle mass and better muscle function is associated with better cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that people with higher handgrip strength tend to have lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Various studies show that every increase in handgrip strength significantly reduced the 10-year cardiovascular disease.
Another research revealed that for every 5kg decline in grip strength, there was a 17% increase in the risk of cardiovascular death, and a 7% and 9% rise in heart attack and stroke odds, respectively.
3Shows the likelihood of cancer development
A weaker grip has also been associated with higher risks of cancer development. This topic is complex and the relationship between muscle power and the likelihood of abnormal cell division hasn’t been fully understood.
It is possible that handgrip is connected to cancer development through inflammation and chronic inflammation is a risk factor for certain types of cancer. Plus, handgrip strength is a measure of overall muscle mass and physical fitness, and being physically active is associated with a lower risk of certain types of cancer.
The study showed that people with low handgrip levels were 17% more likely to die from digestive cancer and lung cancer. Women with weak grip strength had 24% higher odds of breast cancer. Whereas, the same study observed no correlation between colon and prostate cancers and muscle strength.
4Indicates probability of hip fractures and recovery success
Unexpectedly, but fractures, especially hip ones, are more likely to claim more lives than some types of cancer. According to a case-control study, up to 50% of people over the age of 65 who have hip fractures die within six months.
A patient’s grip strength has been shown to predict their functional recovery and mortality one year after hip fracture. In a study, participants with lower handgrip levels had a 30% higher mortality risk from hip fractures when compared to those with normal levels.
5Demonstrates odds of depression
Grip strength has been proven to be a marker not only of physical illnesses but also of mental ones. In a cross-sectional study, greater grip strength was associated with better cognitive function, better life satisfaction, and improved well-being.
Another study showed that participants with high handgrip strength levels had significantly lower levels of tension, depression, fatigue and anger, plus were more lively. The opposite results were seen in a group with a low HGS.
6Shows the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia development
There is also a vivid connection between muscle power and brain function. People with better HGS are proven to be less likely to develop cognitive malfunction, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A study, involving more than 190,000 dementia-free men and women (average age 56), observed that poorer-grip-strength participants had 99% higher odds of cognitive decline and dementia. Furthermore, subgroup analysis indicated that people with poorer strength had 41% higher risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
7Predicts odds of type 2 diabetes
Lifestyle choices, predominantly nutrition and physical activity are two main risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Thus, it’s clear that HGS is correlated with the development of diabetes as it is an indicator of muscle strength and physical fitness.
One study showed that there was a significant negative correlation between HGS and the risk of new onset of diabetes. Men with the lowest levels of grip strength had a 50% higher risk of type 2 diabetes while women had 25% higher these odds.
8Foresees the risk of dying in 90 days after the operation
Besides being a decent indicator of death from various diseases, grip strength has also been shown to predict 90-day mortality, which is death within 90 days after surgery.
A study defined the handgrip strength of senior Chinese men and women. The results showed that participants with low handgrip strength (< 28 kg for men and < 18 kg for women) had a 64% higher risk of dying 90 days after having the operation in comparison to people with good handgrip.
9Correlates with lung health and risk of lung diseases
Interestingly but the power of your grip can be even intertwined with lung health. Hand grip strength has been shown to correlate with pulmonary function and inspiratory and expiratory muscle strength. According to a study, muscle weakness (defined as grip strength <26 kg for men and <16 kg for women) was associated with higher risks of lung conditions. Women and men with a low grip strength had a 31% and 24% higher risk of respiratory mortality and 24% and 19% higher odds of dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Let’s sum up
Handgrip strength is often considered to be just a measure of the force that the hand can squeeze around a dynamometer. But it actually can give the way more information about our health and lifespan. Grip strength is a biomarker of ageing and can serve as a predictor of your overall wellness and risk of disease development. Maintaining good handgrip levels can have a significant impact on various aspects of health, including reducing the risk of stroke, cancer, fractures and even cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Not enough? Here are some more from our colleagues
CriticalBench.com is your authority on health & strength since 1999. It started as a muscle and strength site and has evolved to offer a comprehensive resource for anyone looking to improve their health and mental, spiritual and physical strength. The channel’s creators promote a belief that only you are in control of your health and impact on the world.
In this video, CriticalBench.com give profound insights into the role grip strength plays in almost every life aspect and why its importance shouldn’t be underestimated.
Receive Exclusive Tips & Weekly Digest – subscribe to our newsletter