Ageing affects every single cell of our bodies. The process of maturing is especially hard on our muscles. As we age, day by day some regular, down-to-earth tasks are becoming more and more daunting.
Decreased muscle strength makes it difficult to carry groceries, go up the stairs, use tools as a screwdriver, or open a lid on a jar; the fatigue shows up just a few minutes after we begin some sort of activity that requires physical strength.
The above age-related difficulties are closely related to your handgrip strength (HGS) – an indicator of your muscle strength that constantly goes down as we age.
What is grip strength?
Grip strength is an indicator of the strength of the muscles in your forearms.
It is usually measured by a dynamometer test when you have to squeeze the device as hard as possible and the result will show you the maximum amount of force your forearm muscles can produce.
The handgrip measurement can be used not only to evaluate upper body strength and overall fitness but also for the estimation of your overall health. Grip strength is a very good biomarker of your ageing and can be a predictor of various health conditions.
Research indicates that midlife grip tests with a hand dynamometer can predict physical limitations in old age and assess a person’s overall health.
The effect of age: what happens to your grip strength as you get older?
As we age, our grip strength weakens, which eventually affects how we live our day-to-day lives. Depending on the strength of the grip, even the most basic of things can become more or less challenging, such as shutting lids, carrying groceries, and turning doorknobs.
A vast number of researches prove 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 a person reaches middle age. It is estimated that between the ages of 80 and 90, seniors can lose up to 50% of their muscle mass, which may lead to a worse quality of life.
Factors that affect grip strength decline with age
Age-related decline in HGS results from multiple factors, including:
1Reduced endocrine function
At a more mature age, the endocrine function is no longer working as efficiently as it used to in our adolescence.
The endocrine system is a very complex body network which uses hormones to control and coordinate almost all body processes, including metabolism, energy level, reproduction, growth and development, and response to injury, stress, and mood.
The age-related decline in endocrine function affects muscles – our muscle quantity and quality decrease, resulting in a gradual slowing of our movement, a loss of strength and power, and an increased risk of falling and being injured.
2Decline of anabolic hormones
Ageing also negatively affects our so-called anabolic hormones, which are insulin, growth hormone, estrogen, and testosterone. The decline of these hormones is a culprit of muscle loss as, for instance, testosterone increases muscle protein synthesis (responsible for balancing and building up muscles), drop in estrogen leads to muscle atrophy occurs, resulting in weakness of the muscles.
Older adults usually are less active compared to when they were younger. It has been found that abrupt reductions in physical activity are associated with lower levels of mechanical loading on muscles.
If a muscle isn’t used, the body will eventually break it down to save energy. This can happen if someone is immobile while they recover from an illness or injury. This is called muscle atrophy.
Older people are more vulnerable to succumbing to various diseases. Among 56 million senior Americans, 95% reported having at least one chronic illness. Besides poisoning the life and overall wellness of the ill person, chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease can affect muscle function and strength.
What should your grip strength be?
For sure, there is no ideal HGS level that can be applied to every single person. Key factors that influence your HGS are:
Age – as we age, muscle mass declines.
Gender – men have higher HGS levels than women. This is because men have a larger amount of contractile tissue and greater muscle bulk which results in greater strength.
Fitness levels – the level of your physical activity plays an important role in HGS levels. Individuals who engage in regular physical activity, especially those who practice resistance or strength training exercises, tend to have greater grip strength compared to individuals who are sedentary. Thus, people of the same age group may have drastically different HGS due to disparity in fitness levels. For instance, an elite ice hockey player – Samuel Dove-McFalls scored 81.6 kg on his dynamometer test. At the same time, the of an average man ageing 20-29 is 46 kg.
For a better understanding of how the classification moves across genders and ages, see the HGS charts below.
In other words, if your HGS is greater than the age group you belong to, then you are ‘younger’ in terms of fitness age. Unfortunately, it is also true in reverse.
Let’s sum up
Ageing really affects all processes in our body including muscles. An age-related decline in your handgrip levels is inevitable even if you are in very good shape or are an elite athlete. But luckily, we may always endeavour to slow down and significantly reduce handgrip strength through physical activity. It’s definitely worth trying as HGS plays a crucial role in your longevity and the likelihood of diseases.
Not enough? Here are some more from our colleagues
@GoalGuys is a channel of two brothers, Cam and Brendan, that take on sports and fitness-related challenges. In this video, Cam has decided to try improving his HGS after making some research and finding out that grip strength is an important health and lifespan predictor.
Receive Exclusive Tips & Weekly Digest – subscribe to our newsletter