A Simple Measure of Longevity and Health: Hand Grip Strength

Muscle strength is a powerful predictor of mortality that can quickly and inexpensively be assessed by measuring handgrip strength (HGS). What is missing for clinical practice, however, are meaningful measurements that apply to the general population and that consider the correlation of HGS with gender, body height, as well as the decline in HGS during processes of normal ageing. A new study provided standardised measurements that directly link HGS to remaining life expectancy, allowing the detection of those with an increased mortality risk early on.  How strong do you need to be?

Design Relying on data from the Health and Retirement Study, the HGS of participants was standardised by gender, age and body height. Researchers defined six HGS groups and used these groupings as predictors in survival. A 9-year follow-up after measurement of HGS was achieved.

Participants 8156 US American women and men aged 50–80 years.

Main outcome measures HGS and all-cause mortality.

Results Even slight negative performance in HGS from the reference group had substantial negative effects on observed survival. Remaining life expectancy among individuals aged 60 years with a below average HGS was 3.0/1.4 years lower for men/women than for the reference group, increasing to a difference of 4.1/2.6 years in the group with HGS of the lowest measurments. By contrast, we find no benefit of strong HGS related to survival.

Conclusions HGS varies substantially with gender, age and body height. Above average HGS was not shown to predict longer life expectancy BUT even small decreases in HGS from expected did predict shorter lifespans.  Early measurements of hand grip strength as a marker of weakness and frailty, with programs instituted to increase body strength and prevention of falls, may avoid some early deaths related to frailty.  

Dr. Joel Kahn

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