Way, way back when I was in college, we’d say “get a grip” to someone who was losing control of himself – someone who needed to pull himself up and stop being foolish.
Turns out “get a grip” may also be good advice for those who seek a long life.
You see, if you’re one of those people with a crushing handshake, you should count yourself lucky.
According to researchers, being able to perform that kind of vice-like grip – while not pleasant for the person you’re shaking hands with – means it’s more likely you’re going to live a long time.
And enjoy better health during those years, too!
Here’s the story behind this weird indicator of healthy aging. . .
Strong Hands, Strong Life
In a long list of studies, researchers have uncovered what your hand strength reveals about your health.
For example, investigations at Columbia University’s Aging Center show that having stronger hands may be linked to living longer and healthier while improving the odds, for men, of finding a marriage partner.
In this study, which analyzed the health and longevity of people in a town in Norway, the scientists found that those with the best grips (measured by a tool called a vigorimeter which has you squeeze a rubber balloon) were less likely to enter old age alone and suffer worse health. The people in the study were aged 71 to 82.1
The researchers believe that men with strong grips were also more socially adept and attractive to women. That’s why they were more likely to be married.
“The fact that many men are alone with a weak grip – a double burden for these men who lack both strength and a lack of support that comes from being married – suggests that more attention needs to be given to this group, particularly given their relatively poor health,” warns researcher VegarSkirbekk.
Weak Grip, Die Young
At the same time, a much larger and more diverse study looked at roughly 140,000 people in 17 countries – including Canada, Sweden, Poland, Brazil, India and South Africa. The results show that folks with weaker grip strength die younger and run a greater risk of suffering heart attacks and strokes.
During the four years of the study, the researchers measured grip strength with a device called a dynamometer. They found every 11 pounds reduction in grip strength was linked to a 16 percent increased risk of dying during the research and a 17 percent increase in the chances of dying from heart disease.2
According to Dr. AvanAihie Sayer, who wrote about the study in the journal Lancet, “Loss of grip strength is unlikely to lie on a single final common pathway for the adverse effects of aging, but it might be a particularly good marker of underlying aging processes.”
A Useful Corrective to too Much Sitting
Having stronger hands may also signal that you are less likely to fall victim to the ills caused by sitting too long – a lifestyle habit that’s long been linked to a shorter life.
A study at Glasgow University in the United Kingdom demonstrates that a better hand grip along with better physical fitness can somewhat insulate you from the life-shortening effects of sitting still for hours on end and staring at a phone, TV or computer screen.
In this research, folks who spent long hours in chairs and had weak grips along with poor fitness ran a doubled risk of cancer, heart disease and death from all causes during the five-year study, when compared to people who were the strongest.3
“Our study shows that the risks associated with sedentary behavior are not the same for everyone; individuals with low physical activity experience the greatest adverse effect,” says researcher Carlos Celis.
Strong Grip Linked to a Strong Heart
Studies of hand grip power also show that your hand strength right now is a good indicator of how healthy your heart is and is likely to remain. Research on more than 4,600 people in England reveals that stronger hands go along with a heart that pumps more blood per heartbeat and is in better shape.4
The British researchers believe that doctors should be measuring hand grip during routine medical exams. “Our study of over 4,600 people shows that better hand grip strength is associated with having a healthier heart structure and function,” says researcher Steffen Petersen. “Hand grip strength is an inexpensive, reproducible and easy to implement measure, and could become an important method for identifying those at a high risk of heart disease and preventing major life-changing events, such as heart attacks.”
After perusing all of this research, I will never again resent someone who shakes my hand so hard it hurts. More likely, I may feel some envy.