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A Firm Grip: There Is More to It Than Making a Good First Impression

Last updated May 15, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Ed Dunens

Man workout

In a study involving nearly 140,000 participants from 17 countries of various incomes and socio-cultural settings, Dr. Leong and fellow scientists of the McMaster University of Canada found that a weak handgrip could predict medical issues with the heart.

According to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy has increased over the past several decades. With increasing life span comes a multitude of chronic health problems in the aging population. A research article published in 2013 studied a small population in Hong Kong to report that handgrip could be used as a biomarker for 18 chronic diseases in men and women. 

The study being highlighted here is large-scale, involving several countries and people in different socio-economic strata. The participants were between 35-70 years of age, and the researchers followed them for four years. Participants’ grip strengths were measured by using an instrument called a “Jamar dynamometer.” During the four years of follow-up, they were assessed for a variety of diseases and conditions. 

The findings of the study are:

  • The adjusted data were similar across all income strata
  • For every 5kg (approximately 10 lbs.) loss in grip strength, the chances of a person dying within the next four years increased by 16%
  • Better grip strength correlated with lower mortality
  • Grip strength was a better predictor of death from all causes, as well as cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure
  • Grip strength was not associated with incident diabetes, risk of hospitalization for pneumonia or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or injury due to fall or fracture
  • In high-income countries, a correlation was observed between grip strength and cancer, which was not seen in the middle- or low-income countries.

The handgrips in the study were measured using a machine, which is not commonly used in doctor’s offices. Though the technique is simple, it will likely take some time before it can be used as a routine diagnostic technique in clinics, as crossing regulatory hurdles and training of staff are time-consuming processes.

However, as the authors state, “This study suggests that measurement of grip strength is a simple, inexpensive risk-stratifying method for all-cause death, cardiovascular death, and cardiovascular disease. Further research is needed to identify determinants of muscular strength and to test whether improvement in strength reduces mortality and cardiovascular disease.”

Abraham Kocheril, M.D., Medical Director of Electrophysiology, Presence Covenant Medical Center, says, “This study evaluates a simple test to predict one’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and premature death. Hand-grip strength looks to be a better predictor than systolic blood pressure.   Although there was no attempt in the study to establish cause and effect, it is likely that the link is the health of the blood vessels rather than muscle strength.  Exercise, of course, could improve both.”

Written by Mangala Sarkar Ph.D.

Primary Reference:

Leong, D., Teo, K., Rangarajan, S., Lopez-Jaramillo, P., Avezum Jr, A., Orlandini, A., . . . Salim, Y. (2015). Prognostic value of grip strength: Findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. The Lancet. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62000-6 

Additional References:

Fox, M. & Silverman, J. (2015 May 14). Can a Weak Grip Predict Heart Disease? Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/id/102678306 

Life expectancy Data by WHO region. (n.d.). Retrieved May 14, 2015, from http://apps.who.int/gho/data/view.main.690?lang=en 

Cheung, C., Nguyen, U., Au, E., Tan, K., & Kung, A. (2013). Association of handgrip strength with chronic diseases and multimorbidity: A cross sectional study. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 35(3), 929-941. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636411/ 

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 15, 2015
Last updated: May 15, 2015