Grip strength: why your hand is key to knowing if you are healthy and how you can exercise it

Grip strength: why your hand is key to knowing if you are healthy and how you can exercise it


Reading the lines of the palms of the hands was a superstitious way of telling the future throughout the centuries. But the latest scientific studies have concluded that the practice was not misguided. The hand can explain many things, although not in the divinatory sense. The consensus among health experts has already revealed years ago that hand grip strength is one of the greatest predictors of what a person’s quality of life will be like, what diseases they will develop and what their fragility is in older people. But recent studies have revealed that even children’s ability to use their hands forcefully can help predict whether they will develop diseases such as diabetes.

Grip strength as an index of health is related to various factors. One of them is sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass that occurs with age. This disappearance occurs at a rate of 1% from the midpoint of life and in people between 80 and 90 years old it can reach 50% of its mass. But weak grip strength can also be a symptom of a sedentary life with minimal demands for active life. Not having strength in your arms or trunk due to lack of exercise can mean that your hands also lack enough energy for small daily activities.

Precisely, it is this weakness that is considered a biomarker – a predictor of vital conditions – of quality of life but also of difficulties when carrying out daily actions. But the data offered by the grip capacity goes further. According to a meta-analysis carried out by doctors and physical therapists at Campbell University (United States) published in 2019, grip also reveals bone density, the possibility of fractures in cases of falls, depression, sleep problems, diabetes and, among other problems, cognitive disorders.

In one of the studies cited by the analysis, a fact stands out in this sense. In a study on a group of elderly citizens who had recently suffered falls, it was found that their average grip strength was 17.6 kilograms. In another group of the same age that had not suffered any accident of this type, it was found that their strength was significantly greater: 20.7 kilograms. The study includes other cases of diseases in which the power of the hands is an indicator of health. An analysis of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) patients who had been admitted to intensive care revealed that those with weak grip strength (a measure of 5.7 kilograms) died, while those with more energy (14.5 kilograms) survived.

As measured

Hand strength is measured with a fist-clenched dynamometer that measures force in kilograms. According to the scales accepted with some consensus, 64 kilos in men and 38 kilos in women is considered an excellent level. The average would be around 50 kilos for them and close to 30 for them. But these scales are relative, since they are general and do not take age into account.

With these data one might think that training only hand strength is a guarantee of health, but the situation is more complex. The medical consensus estimates that the problem is weakness, that is, the absence of strength is what defines the problem. However, adding more power to the grip does not entail an extra benefit with respect to the use of the hand as a biomarker.

This vision leads to one of the most accepted arguments in recent years: strength exercises are those that allow better longevity, compared to other types of aerobic sports. In this sense, the ability to hold a weight in your hands and do more or less complex exercises with it is what allows you to fight sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass.

That is, the improvement in the prehensile capacity of the hands is a consequence of a more active and, therefore, healthier life. But activities that improve gripping ability are not limited to handling loads. For example, hanging from a bar is one of the exercises that introduces a series of improvements to the body. Since it is a stretch, it involves the strength needed to hold the body for a certain amount of time in that position. Indirectly it is a way to create a powerful grip.


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