How grip strength can determine if you will live a long and healthy life.
We are always told to pay attention to our cholesterol, our blood pressure and lots of other factors when it comes to our health. But what about actual everyday things that we do? Our fitness levels? Our strength? Well in this blog post I am going to talk about grip strength and how it can be a more significant marker for early mortality than some other common tests.
In a study published in 2015 in – ‘The Lancet’, the health outcomes of nearly 140,000 people were tracked over four years. The recording included a variety of factors, including grip strength. In the paper it was reported that grip strength was not only – “inversely associated with all-cause mortality” but that every five kilogram reduction in overall grip strength was associated with a “17 percent increase” in the risk of mortality.Further more McMaster University professor of medicine Darryl Leong noted, “Grip strength was a stronger predictor of all cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.”
Woah there, hold on a second, what did you just say? How on earth is my grip strength more significant than blood pressure in determining my health? And if it is why haven’t I been told about this?
Why is grip strength important?
Grip strength falls into an odd category. Unlike other performance focused tests such as total lean muscle mass, maximal leg strength or your VO2 max, it does not have an immediate affect on your health. By that I mean it is not an overall indicator of your physical health on its own. However, grip strength as previously mentioned is a good predictor of your current health state. Not only is it more significant than blood pressure for indicating your risk of death, but it has been linked to a loss of cognitive function as your brain cannot communicate with the associated muscles and ligaments for controlling complex actions like grasping a heavy or awkward object. Grip strength can also be used as a great tool for diagnosing the loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) in older patients, and is more robustly associated with so called ‘aging markers’ than chronological aging itself. For example you could have a 70 year old who has a great grip strength for their age group and this should mean they have less of the markers than say a 50 year old with a very poor grip strength.
This can be linked to the obvious association between lean muscle mass, fitness, and grip. If you can hold, carry or pull a lot of weight you probably have higher amounts of quality muscle mass than someone else who cannot. Furthermore the ability to hold onto an object or catch and grasp an object can help prevent fall injury’s in elderly patients thus reducing their risk of serious injury or worse. If they can catch themselves or hold onto a support then their fall risk is seriously reduced compared to someone who cannot.
So, how can you improve and maintain your grip strength?
There are lots of exercises you could use to help build grip strength. Almost all pulling exercises will require a stronger grip as you gradually increase the weight you lift. Such as:
- Dead lifts
- Bent over rows (dumbbell or barbell)
- T-bar row
- Inverted rows
- Single dumbbell rows
- Pulley machines
- Seated row machines
- Lat pull down machines
Other examples of good grip strengthening exercises include:
- Pull ups
- Hanging from pull up bars
- Farmers Carries
- Rope pulls
- Heavy kettle bell swings
- Climbing walls or rock climbing
How strong do you need to be?
There is no exact number, or perfect score, but rather the idea is that you should aim to be as strong as you can and as you age into your 60s and beyond the aim is to be able to maintain this strength or improve it further. Remember grip strength is not only a great aid, but the actions of building the strength will contribute to a better quality of life, more muscle mass and strength and all of this will contribute to a healthier, longer and higher quality life.
So the take home message? If your goal is to be healthy and stay healthy as you age, you need to do some strength training.