Can Grip Strength Really Predict Longevity?
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Can Grip Strength Really Predict Longevity?

Perhaps you have recently gone to the doctor for your annual check-up (you have gone in the past year, right?).  As part of the exam, they may have given you a test of your grip strength, perhaps explaining that it is an indicator of your functional age. 

Function is #1

No matter how old you really are, it’s function that matters.  If you are 60 but can leap around like a 20 year-old, your functional age is a lot less than your biological age of 60. 

That also means that you are less likely to develop the chronic diseases that plague many older people.  These are often referred to as “morbidities,” and, quite frankly, they signal your chances of staying alive.

So, there is this “thing” of testing grip strength to determine your functional age, or at least your chances of developing diseases that will impact your health and longevity. 

What is up with that?  Does that test really do that?  If so, how?  And, for those of us who are a little cynical, couldn’t we then just stave off a heart attack, stroke, or even dementia by simply sitting around doing grip exercises? 

Deep down you may already know the answer to that last question.  You cannot just pick out a little move like grip strengthening and expect it to do much for the rest of your body.  Still, the question remains…if grip strength is now used to infer something about your longevity, then how come just strengthening your grip wouldn’t help? 

What research says and doesn’t say

Let’s take a look at the research.  There has been some significant research showing a connection between grip strength and longevity.  But, until now, there really hasn’t been much done to figure out what is really going on underneath.  

The Washington Post had an article in January of this year that referred to a very recently published research study.  The study performed some tricky chemistry experiments and discovered that “Grip strength is inversely associated with DNA methylation age acceleration.”  That is a fancy way of saying that there is a process going on in our DNA that is directly linked to aging (methylation).  That methylation process is also correlated with grip strength (or lack of it).  So, there is that.  It’s a good start.

What is going on when you grip anyway?    

Let’s get back to basics.  As with anything having to do with the human body, basics is very rarely possible, but I will try.     

We can move forwrd by going back to the question from before.  

To review, the question is:

Could you just work on your grip strength in order to live longer?

The answer to that brings up some general points about muscle strength that are worth noting.  

Your ability to grip isn’t just about fingers and the thumb.  When you grip the device for testing, it also activates your forearms, your rotator cuff in the shoulder, and maybe even your core, depending on your technique.  So how could that possibly be a test for how long you will live, since everyone’s technique is different? I would put it to you that healthier individuals can recruit and use many more muscles than those who are not as healthy.

Muscle strength has a lot to do with your nerves.  Your nerves activate your muscles.  Crucially, they activate them in a certain order, depending on what you are doing and how you are doing it.  In other words, your form.  This can depend on many things, including previous experience, training, posture, AND your health.  It follows that individuals that exercise more, keep a healthy weight, and generally eat healthy foods, will be able to maintain good nerve conduction and overall muscle activation.

Now we are getting down to it.  Let’s take the example of diabetes.  Some by-products of having diabetes are wide-spread inflammation and nerve damage.  Thus, a person with diabetes, which has a known impact on longevity, will also likely show up in the doctor’s office with compromised grip strength.

Many other disease processes can affect your nerves and muscles.  Therefore, it would seem reasonable that the ability to produce some amazing grip strength could point to your overall health. 

More Questions and a Summary

There are a few other questions that remain largely unanswered.  Is your future set in stone if you get a bad report on your grip-strength?  Furthermore, what age do you have to be in order for this to be a good indicator of your ability to stay alive?  Have they exhaustively tested people younger than, say, 35?  It appears that they have not.

For now, let’s leave all the unanswered questions hanging out there and go to a summary: 

  1. There truly are a lot of unanswered questions here.  But the issue of grip strength can get you thinking about how our bodies work and respond to disease.
  2. The grip strength test is in its infancy, but it has promise for a number of reasons.
  3. Your functional age has to do with many things, but muscle strength is a big one.  So, keep up with the strength training! 

As always, cheers,
Kristen

© 2023 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Microgen | iStock

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