Firmness of a person’s hand grip is better than blood pressure for assessing health, according to a new study, and reduced muscular strength, measured by grip, is consistently linked with early death, disability and illness.
The research by the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in Ontario was published May 13 in the journal The Lancet.
“Grip strength could be an easy and inexpensive test to assess an individual’s risk of death and cardiovascular disease,” principal investigator Darryl Leong, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and a cardiologist, said in a news release. “Doctors or other healthcare professionals can measure grip strength to identify patients with major illnesses such as heart failure or stroke who are at particularly high risk of dying from their illness.”
The study followed 139,691 adults ages 35-70 in 17 countries for a median of four years. Their muscle strength was measured using a handgrip dynamometer. The participants were taking part in the institute’s Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology study.
Researchers found for every 5 kilogram decline in grip strength, there was a 1 in 6 increased risk of death from any cause. There was the same 17% higher risk of death from either heart disease or stroke, or noncardiovascular conditions.
These associations with grip strength remained after researchers adjusted for differences in age, sex, education level, employment status, physical activity, tobacco and alcohol use, diet, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio or participants’ countries’ wealth. According to the findings, the associations also were not affected by other conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, coronary artery disease, COPD, stroke or heart failure.
Healthy grip strength does depend on the individual’s size and weight, and in this study appeared to vary with ethnicity. Further analysis is needed to identify the cut-offs for healthy grip strength in people from different countries, the researchers said.
Leong noted more research also is needed to establish whether efforts to improve muscle strength are likely to reduce a person’s risk of death and cardiovascular disease.
The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and grants from national health institutions of 15 other countries or pharmaceutical companies.
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