How Firm is Your Grip?
Handshakes Predict Heart Problems
It's been known for decades that people who are stronger tend to live longer, but doctors really haven't had an idea of what that exactly means in real numbers. How strong do you need to be? Does risk increase as strength decreases? What are you at risk for? Is there an easy and reliable way to measure strength across various populations?
The answers may lie in the firmness of your handshake.
In a study called Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE), researchers followed 139,691 adults between the ages of 35 and 70 years. These subjects were living in 17 countries from Canada to Zimbabwe. Over an average of four years, grip strength was assessed using a device called a Jamar dynamometer.
The study found that people with reduced grip strength had an increased odds of dying. What was more surprising is that grip strength was a stronger predictor of cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure. In other words, a simple grip strength test could show your cardiovascular risk more accurately than a blood pressure test. Doctors can use it as a quick and cheap screening tool to identify high-risk patients.
Here are the numbers. Every 5kg decline in grip strength was associated with a 16% increase in risk of death from any cause. It also meant a 17% greater risk of cardiovascular death. Your odds of dying from a heart attack increased a more modest 7% and death by stroke 9%.
The risks remained even when researchers included other factors like alcohol and tobacco use, physical activity levels, age and education levels.
To clarify things a little, there is a difference between cardiovascular death and a heart attack. Sudden cardiac death is the abrupt and generally unexpected death from loss of heart function. The body's electrical system that keeps the heart working becomes irregular and causes a flutter, quiver or fails completely. Blood is not delivered to the body. The greatest concern is lack of blood to the brain which can cause loss of consciousness and eventually death.
A heart attack (myocardial infarction) happens with there's a blockage in one or more arteries to the heart. The heart is then starved for oxygen-rich blood and over time, the heart becomes damaged.
Curious what your grip strength should be? Following are the average grip strength ranges for men and women, broken down by age. This information is from the Camry Electronic Hand Dynamometer Instruction manual.
Here's how to use the tables. Look under your gender and select your age. Then hold a device called a dynamometer and squeeze. Pull the handgrip as tight as you can and write down the results. Repeat three times, then average the results.
It's very important that you follow all instructions on positioning your body when performing the test. You want to make sure you're getting the proper results. The person doing the measuring will take into account any injuries you may have as well as the functionality of your hand with interpreting your grip strength performance.
If you're at the lower end or below the average, consider starting some strength training, or increasing a program you may already be on. At the higher end of average or above, congratulations. What you're doing may help you live longer.
Most doctors, physical therapists and many personal trainers have a dynamometer. Ask if you can use it during your next visit or when you get a regular checkup.
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