The ‘cheap and easy test’ you can perform with your hands that assesses your risk of death
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If you had a crystal ball, what would you want to know? It’s easy to imagine your time of death would be high up on the list. Predicting the future may seem like science fiction but your body provides some clues about your overall lifespan. A new study shows how handgrip strength provides a window into your mortality.
Popping open jars is a reflexive action but it’s worth paying attention to this everyday motion.
That’s because handgrip strength is an effective screening tool for different health conditions.
If someone’s handgrip strength is low, it might be an indication of underlying health problems – and not only in older individuals: handgrip strength has been linked to health conditions already in young adulthood.
A large number of studies have shown that low handgrip strength may be a manifestation of health conditions related to heart and lung problems. Some studies have also found that those with low handgrip strength have a lower life expectancy.
A new study published in BMJ sought to establish an objective standard for handgrip strength that could be applied to the general population.
By doing this, the researchers hope to provide doctors with a threshold for handgrip strength, beyond which a doctor should consider sending a patient for further examination.
The results of the study provide standardised thresholds that directly link handgrip strength to remaining life expectancy, thus enabling practitioners to detect patients with an increased mortality risk early on.
“In general, handgrip strength depends on gender, age, and the height of a person. Our task was to find the threshold related to handgrip strength that would signal a practitioner to do further examinations if a patient’s handgrip strength is below this threshold. It is similar to measuring blood pressure. When the level of blood pressure is outside of a particular range, the doctor can either decide to prescribe a particular medicine or to send the patient to a specialist for further examination,” explained IIASA researcher Sergei Scherbov.
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Handgrip strength is measured by squeezing a dynamometer with one hand.
In the study, the patient is asked to perform two attempts with each hand, the best trial being used for measurement. There is a special protocol for this process as the values may depend on whether the test was performed in a standing or a sitting position, among other considerations.
There is a special protocol for this process as the values may depend on whether the test was performed in a standing or a sitting position, among other considerations.
In contrast to earlier studies, the authors compared individuals’ handgrip strength not with a healthy reference population, but with individuals who are comparable in terms of sex, age, and body height.
The findings indicate an increase in mortality risk at a threshold that is more sensitive compared to that estimated in earlier studies.
In fact, the results show that a handgrip strength that is only slightly below the average of a comparable population (considering a person’s sex, age, and body height) is indicative of health conditions leading to earlier death.
A stronger handgrip compared to other people of the same age, sex, and body height was not found to reduce the mortality risk.
“Handgrip strength is a cheap and easy to perform test, but it may help with early diagnosis of health problems and other underlying health conditions. Monitoring the handgrip strength of the elderly (and in fact middle-aged people) may provide great benefits for the public health of aging populations. Our findings make it clear that handgrip strength is a very precise and sensitive measure of underlying health conditions. Therefore, we suggest it to be used as a screening tool in medical practice,” noted Nadia Steiber from the University of Vienna.
“It is important to point out that we are not suggesting that people should train handgrip strength in particular to decrease mortality risks. Most likely, if someone improves their handgrip strength through exercises, there will be no or very little impact on their overall health. However, low handgrip strength may serve as an indicator of disability because it reflects a low muscle strength, which is associated with a higher risk of death. A healthy lifestyle and exercise are still the best approaches to sustain good health or to improve it in the long term,” concluded Sonja Spitzer, a postdoctoral researcher at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital and the University of Vienna.
General tips for healthy ageing
Whatever your age, there’s strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and happier life.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is also an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best.
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