What your hand grip strength can say about your health

Dr Daniel Lieberman explains importance of strength training

It is not always possible to determine how well someone is without using tools such as blood tests and scans.

However, something as simple as the grip strength of your hand could help provide a basic overview of this.

Various studies have concluded that grip strength is an accurate marker for your overall health, including both cognitive and physical fitness.

Having a weak grip has also been associated with osteoporosis, obesity, fall risk, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

But why is this? Express.co.uk looked at some of the research available to find out more.

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Physical fitness

One study, published in the Journal of Bodyworks and Movement Therapies in 2021, found a link between weak grip strength and a sedentary lifestyle.

A lack of physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for noncommunicable diseases and death worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

As part of the research, the hand grip strength of 971 teenagers (aged 15 to 19) was measured using a piece of equipment known as a dynamometer.

Their age, economic status, balanced diet and relationship with exercise were assessed by questionnaires, while they were measured for their body mass index.

Of the participants, 65 percent were recorded as having low grip strength.

Among the boys, the researchers found a direct correlation between low grip strength and how much exercise they do, as well as how healthy their diet is.

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It said: “Low levels of hand grip strength were associated with weight status and height in both sexes.

“In boys, low levels of hand grip strength were associated with age, balanced diet, physical activity, and sedentary behaviour.”

A biomarker for older adults

Hand grip strength does not just demonstrate how healthy younger people are.

In a paper, published in the Clinical Interventions in Ageing journal in 2019, physical therapist Richard Bohannon looked at the importance of grip strength among older adults.

“Grip strength has been proposed as a biomarker,” he said.

“Supporting this proposition, evidence is provided herein that shows grip strength is largely consistent as an explanator of concurrent overall strength, upper limb function, bone mineral density, fractures, falls, malnutrition, cognitive impairment, depression, sleep problems, diabetes, multi-morbidity, and quality of life.”

He considered existing scientific studies into the correlation between grip strength and health.

This showed that the strength of your hand was linked to multiple factors.

He said: “Based on the review it appears that there is adequate evidence to support the use of grip strength as an explanatory or predictive biomarker of specific outcomes such as generalised strength and function, bone mineral density, fractures, and falls, nutritional status, disease status and comorbidity load, cognition, depression, and sleep, hospital-related variables, and mortality.

“Based on this evidence and the promotion by others, the routine implementation of the measurement of grip strength can be recommended for older adults in the community and health-care settings.”

Cognitive health

Hand grip strength is not just linked to physical health.

A study of more than 40,000 participants found it was telling of someone’s mental health as well as life satisfaction and overall wellbeing.

The paper, published in BMC Medicine in 2022, said: “In cross-sectional analysis, we found that greater grip strength was associated with better cognitive functioning, higher life satisfaction, greater subjective wellbeing, and reduced depression and anxiety symptoms while controlling for numerous demographic, anthropometric, and socioeconomic confounders.

“The results revealed widespread associations between stronger grip strength and increased grey matter volume, especially in subcortical regions and temporal cortices.

“Moreover, grey matter volume of these regions also correlated with better mental health and considerably mediated their relationship with grip strength.”

How to test hand grip strength

To get an accurate idea of your health via your grip strength, more than just a handshake is needed.

Professionals will ask a patient to squeeze a hand-held dynamometer as hard as they can three times in each hand.

An average score is then calculated using the measurements from both hands. For men the average score is between 48 and 51 kilograms, while for women it is 26 to 29 kilograms.

Anything above this could indicate good health to varying degrees, while scores below indicate the opposite.

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