Securing a Grip on Safety and Longevity

Did you know that hand strength is related to personal safety—as well as to how long people live? Sounds farfetched, even shocking? Healthy skepticism is good (as long as it doesn’t verge into denial), so don’t take my or anyone else’s word. Check for yourself—my google search on “how stronger hands lengthen your life” came back with over 11 million hits! This is clearly much more than a rarity. 

It’s not just some self-proclaimed expert’s opinion either. There are numerous well-designed, replicated double-blind medical studies corroborating the link between stronger grip and longer living. For example, the well-regarded BMJ (previously “The British Medical Journal”) cited a University College London’s review of over 14 studies on grip strength—total, over 53,000 people—revealing, “the death rate among the weakest (grip) people was 1.67 times greater than among strongest participants, taking age, sex, and body size into account.” 

Sure, as workforces become grayer, overall sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) naturally occurs, that is, unless people take action to compensate for this. But the correlation between weaker-grip-diminished-longevity doesn’t just apply to older people. Researcher Rachel Cooper, Ph.D. reflected on five of the grip strength studies that monitored participants with an average age under 60, “Grip strength measured at younger ages also predicted mortality.” 

Further, a Norwegian study published in the December 2016 Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concluded, “Grip strength was inversely associated with all-cause mortality rates in men and women…. in all age groups.” And the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health published German researcher, S. Zechmann’s study, “Grip strength: greater mortality predictor than systolic blood pressure.”

More evidence? Originally published in the prestigious Lancet, the British medical journal, “the Prospective Urban-Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study is a large, longitudinal population study done in 17 countries of varying incomes and sociocultural settings.” This study of over 140,000 participants indicated, “reduced muscular strength, as measured by grip strength, has been associated with an increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.” 

So why might this be? Perhaps grip strength just reflects overall health? Remember that any condition can affect other parts of the body. You might know, for example, that the state of one’s toes can indicate certain diseases (e.g. failure to quickly heal from a foot laceration can be a sign of diabetes or some cardiovascular problems.) So it’s possible that lack of grip strength might merely indicate general overall deterioration.  

But it seems something much more is going on here. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported a study (“Grip Strength as a Marker of Hypertension and Diabetes in Healthy Weight Adults”) that higher grip strength was associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar and improved “good” levels of cholesterol. Other studies have found that a stronger grip correlates with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. 

In the safety realm, grip strength can affect injury incidence and severity. You know those momentary losses of balance that we all experience (even happens to great athletes)? Weaker hands and arms might make it much more likely that these incidents turn into a fall from a person being less able to hold themselves up with a handrail or a cane or fixed object. Or insufficiently strong grip might prevent one from being able to brace themselves when needed (which can up the ante on impacting a surface.) Or a weaker grip might preclude being able to assist getting up or down from sitting without straining or stumbling. Or from preventing an object you were holding from dropping onto your foot. Or more. 

I’ve consistently found the impact and prevalence of slips/trips/falls continue to be widely underestimated—and have much greater negative results than many people think and may be getting worse. According to the CDC, death by falling increased 30 percent from 2009 to 2018. And hospitalizations due to falls too frequently lead to long-term disabling conditions and increased (often otherwise-unexplained) fatalities.  

By the way, it’s not just hand strength that’s a proven statistical bio-marker for living longer. It’s at least three other “movement”-related activities.  

  1. Being able to balance on one leg for a period of time (important for preventing a slip or trip from igniting into a high-impact fall), 
  2. Getting up out of a chair quickly without using your hands
  3. Walking at a fast pace rather than just ambling along. There are medical double-blind studies clearly associating each of these attributes with longevity.

You might well ask, do hand strength and other physical attributes merely reflect underlying physical disease or problems—or can the opposite be true, that strengthening movements might actually contribute to higher performance and quality of life? Well, Axios reported, “The single most effective set of muscles you can work to extend your life is in your hands.” And I do know one thing both for myself and from what I’ve observed: moving “younger,” with greater strength, tuned coordination and deeper balance enables being more active, helps raise energy, allows me to be more able to do what I want, to feel more alive and effective in numerous ways and can dramatically help prevent a wide range of injuries, especially those that seem to consistently plague most companies (soft-tissue/strains and sprains, slips/trips/falls, hand injuries and many more.) 

In fact, in our MoveSMART® system, the first “technique” (actually “principle”) we transfer is “Smart Hands™” – how to quickly increase overall hand and body strength through enlisting different regions of your hands and arms. In other words, that in addition to exercising over a period of time, it’s also possible to immediately improve grip strength through “smart” emphasis of different parts of the hand (hint – think outside region for greater power. Of course, there’s more to this….)  

But whatever you do, consider incorporating any activities that elevate hand strength, as well as balance, in order to be more effective, safer, and perhaps even to live a longer, more vibrant and safer life. 

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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