Better Version of You: Get a grip, live longer (column)
June 20, 2018
A firm handshake is a sign of self-assuredness, but it can also carry greater implications.
There is a strong (pun intended) link between grip strength and longevity, and those who retain higher levels of grip strength throughout life often times have lower risks of developing heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
It may sound like hearsay, but countless research studies have been conducted to support this conclusion.
Among the most popular study is the international Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological study, which had researchers measure 140,000 adults across several different countries. Researchers tracked the health of those being studied for nearly four years, measuring their grip strength with an implement called a dynamometer. Interestingly enough, when an 11-pound decrease in grip strength occurred over the entirety of the study, there was a 16 percent higher risk of dying — from any cause. Heart attack risk went up 7 percent, stroke risk went up 9 percent and heart disease risk went up 17 percent. Researches then adjusted the study to consider factors such as exercise, smoking and age, but still found a correlation between disease and grip strength.
SEIZING THE significance
The mechanisms behind these correlations aren't completely understood; nevertheless they are not new. Countless other research studies have shown similar findings.
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Grip strength, in a sense, can be viewed as a biomarker for longevity.
Biological age is vastly different than chronological age. Those who take care of themselves and monitor their health often display physical attributes much younger than what's considered "normal" for their chronological age.
You cannot stop aging, but you can certainly slow it down. In a practical sense, grip strength can help aging populations with activities of daily living. Those who can tightly hold on to railings while walking down stairs or through an icy path in the winter will be less likely to fall, for example.
Activities that may be taken for granted now but are used throughout life requiring grip strength include but are not limited to: carrying bags and groceries, opening jars and bottles, playing sports, operating machinery and cooking.
Obviously it is not to say that you won't be able to do any of these things when your grip strength is sub-par, but the day that you won't be able to will reach you quicker.
MORE WITHIN YOUR GRASP
Intelligent strength training can help retain, or even increase, your grip strength.
Pulling exercises such deadlifts, rows and chin-ups will aid in grip strength training.
Two of my personal favorite methods are farmers carries for distance (see how far you can walk with weights in your hands) and dead hangs from a pull up bar for time. These two exercises will increase grip strength endurance.
Aside from those, special implements can be purchased called grip-trainers. A company called Iron Mind sells what it calls "captains of crush" at various intensities for those who want to get extra serious.
Equally important to training the hand and forearm flexors are training the extensors. This will ensure that your grip is strong through and through. I hope you find this article as a useful tool toward developing your grip strength and understanding why it is key to health and longevity. As always, thanks for reading and have a nice week.
Jimmy Pritchard has a B.S. from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the assistant strength coach at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Pritchard's passion is to help others meet, and often exceed, their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.