What Your Grip Says About Your Health

A new study shows a surprising link between your heart and the strength of your grip. (Photo: Getty Images/Helena Inkeri)

It sounds too simple to be true, but scientists say the strength of your grip is correlated with your risk for heart disease, stroke, and early death — and it’s a better predictor of these health conditions than taking your blood pressure.

The findings are the result of a large international study published in the journal Lancet of nearly 140,000 adults in 17 countries.

For their research, scientists used a tool called a handgrip dynamometer, which measures the strength of a person’s grip. Researchers measured study participants’ grips at the beginning of the study, and again about four years later.

They discovered that for every 5-kilogram drop in grip strength, there was a 17 percent increased risk of dying from a heart attack and a 16 percent increased risk of death from any cause. Researchers also found that people with a weaker grip were 7 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 9 percent more likely to have a stroke, compared with those who had a stronger grip. A lower grip strength was also linked with higher rates of death in people who had already had a heart attack or stroke, as well as cancer.

Study author Darryl Leong, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University, tells Yahoo Health he was surprised by how strong the correlation was, given that it applied to people from many different countries and backgrounds.

But this isn’t the first research to link hand grip with a person’s health. A study published in the journal Neurology in 2012 discovered that people who had a stronger hand grip had a 42 percent lower risk of stroke, and research published in the medical journal CMAJ in 2010 found that poor hand grip is associated with an increased risk of death among people over the age of 85.

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As odd as it may be that hand grip seems to be a health predictor, Leong says it can actually reveal a lot about a person — particularly, “we believe that grip strength might reflect the cumulative result of all the healthy and unhealthy lifestyle choices that a person makes over the course of their life.”

Despite the findings, Leong says most doctors don’t use hand-grip strength as a predictor of future health. And Curtis Rimmerman, MD, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, is among them.

Rimmerman tells Yahoo Health he’ll test a patient’s grip strength if they already have a disability — for example, he’ll check a patient’s left vs. right side grip if he suspects they’ve already had a stroke — but he’s never used it as a way to predict if a person will have a heart attack or stroke.

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“I’m not aware of how low muscle strength, including poor grip strength, would predispose of a vascular event,” he says. However, Rimmerman says he’s not dismissing the findings since “sometimes great work comes from left field.”

Nicole Weinberg, MD, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Yahoo Health that it’s “probably more reasonable” to do standard testing such as an electrocardiogram, stress test, and vital testing to determine if a person is at risk of heart attack or stroke. But she points out that the method could be helpful for lower-income communities where patients may not have easy access to those tests.

That’s what Leong says he’s hoping to achieve: “We think that the test might have a role in particular settings, such as resource-challenged settings because it is such a cheap and quick test.”

Want to check your grip at home? Leong says it’s possible to do it accurately if you purchase a dynamometer, which will set you back $200.

So, maybe just stick with eating well, exercising, and visiting your doctor regularly for now.

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