Business professionals often equate a firm handshake with an individual’s level of confidence. Research now shows that a powerful grip also correlates to longevity. Learn how incorporating grip strength into clients’ workout programs can foster a longer, healthier life!
Stuart Gray of the University of Glasgow came across the surprising data that brought to light how grip strength can predict not only an individual’s overall strength and health, but his or her chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
After the age of 40, even a professional athlete’s hard-earned muscle mass diminishes somewhat as a natural part of the aging process. As personal trainers, we often speak to clients about the virtues of strength training, citing its importance in maintaining muscle mass to ward off osteoporosis, improve balance, and help maintain mobility. Now, it seems as if grip strength–not necessarily an area of specific focus for most folks’ goals–may improve the odds of living longer. Scientists have gone so far as to claim that as we age, a hefty grip can predict one’s likelihood of successfully beating cancer.
Surprising Grip Strength and Health Correlations
From the fitness center to the medical center, grip strength has been proposed as a biomarker, an objective indication of medical status. As such, evidence supports an association between grip strength and limb function, bone density, and balance.
One particular group studied over 500K participants in the UK Biobank project, with ages ranging from 40 to 69 years at the onset of the study. Periodically assessed over the course of ~7 years, the volunteers participated in various types of health reviews.
After accounting for age and lifestyles, the researchers found that a grip-strength measurement of less than 57 pounds for men, and less than 35 pounds for women correlated with a greater risk of death and placed these individuals at a higher risk for certain serious illnesses. From that starting point, every 11-pound drop in grip strength correlated to an average increased death risk of ~18%. Potentially fatal conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and serious respiratory illness all factored into the relationship.
Personal trainers and physical therapists often treat clients/patients who suffer from the comorbidity of bone mineral density/osteoporosis and fractures of the hip. A pilot study sought to find any evidence between the incidence of hip fractures and potential weak grip strength. Among the 20,000 subjects who chose to complete a questionnaire as part of this study, scientists noted a fairly strong correlation to hip fractures among individuals whose grips failed to fall within the “healthy” parameters discussed above.
While grip strength may not necessarily be seemingly salient in the course of a senior’s daily functional activities, the proven association with overall mobility deserves attention. Kimberly Forrest and colleagues assessed activities of daily living (ADL) and specifically noted diminished grip strength in seniors who reported challenges/limitations in normal everyday movements such as walking, using a staircase, and elevating themselves from a sitting position.
Interestingly, grip strength was also associated with non-physical maladies such as depression, sleep disturbances, and cognitive impairment. These conditions may fall outside the average personal trainer’s scope of practice. Therefore, knowing that such research data exists can help trainers make the purposeful decision to include grip-strengthening exercises when designing workouts for older clients.
No Equipment? No Problem!
As many more personal trainers work with homebound clients, either in person or virtually, the challenge of advancing their well-being and strength in the absence of sophisticated gym equipment poses a challenge.
With a bit of creativity and ingenuity, trainers can actually help clients improve their grip strength using “props” readily available in most households. Read on to discover some of the more popular moves.
- While facing an open door, have your client grip the door right above the latch, typically near waist height. Maintaining this grasp, slowly lower to a squat position, sitting on heels. Hold 20-30 seconds. Work up to 60 seconds, then try just grasping/holding the door with thumb and forefinger.
- Once again grabbing a door, but higher than the latch at approximately chest level, straighten legs and slowly lean back maintaining a strong hold on the door. Maintain this position, then slowly return to fully vertical by “rowing” with the grip hold.
- Place one hand, palm side up, on the edge of a table, knuckles just off the edge. Rest a book on top of just the fingers, excluding the thumb. Attempt to elevate the book slightly, using individual fingers. Make sure client feels a bit on tension in each digit. Once mastered, move on to progressively heavier books. Note: The pinky finger usually proves the most challenging.
- Place a matchstick on client’s hand, atop both the index finger and ring finger, yet under the middle finger. With the matchstick positioned just above the top knuckle and below the nail bed, have the client attempt to snap the matchstick by pushing down with the middle finger and up with the index and ring fingers.
- Gripping the handle of an average-sized skillet, place arm at 90 degrees to the body, pan straight in front of the body. Slowly move the pan right and left, mimicking windshield wipers. Start off gripping the part of the handle closest to the pan, and as strength progresses, move toward the far end of the handle.
- Place a rubber band (thick, if possible) around upper ends of thumb and fingers while in a pinch position. Slowly attempt to open and close hand without springing the rubber band off.
Getting a Grip on Life
Any manner of improving health-related quality of life takes on increased importance as our population in general – and our clients in particular – inch up in age. Knowing how something as easy to address as grip strength can facilitate such longevity helps our profession remain current with the newest research. Toss in a few of the exercises mentioned here and observe how your clients respond; then, ask them to shake your hand! The grip strength displayed tells the whole success story!