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The Link Between Grip Strength and Longer Life

Grip strength

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Key Takeaways

  • A recent study suggests greater grip strength could be a marker for healthy aging and more mobility.
  • This connection to healthy aging is because grip strength is related to a higher degree of muscle mass and function.
  • Previous research has noted that low grip strength could be an early sign of fall risk, frailty, and shorter life during aging.

Mobility is often highlighted as a key marker for healthy aging since it allows older people to be independent and active longer, and a new study suggests that one way to determine if mobility is still robust is through measuring grip strength.

About the Study

Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society the study looks at just over 5,000 women who were part of the Long Life Study, with an average age of 78. Their health markers were assessed over a 5-year period and included weight loss and gain, grip strength, balance, and gait speed.  

Lisa Underland, DO

What this shows us is that the focus for older women shouldn't be on weight loss as a way to extend their lives, but instead on improving mobility and muscle strength.

— Lisa Underland, DO

Increased mortality was seen with weight loss but not weight gain, and higher grip strength was associated with longer life independent of weight change. Another key finding was that balance and gait speed played a part in longevity, particularly when combined with grip strength.

"What this shows us is that the focus for older women shouldn't be on weight loss as a way to extend their lives, but instead on improving mobility and muscle strength," says lead author Lisa Underland, DO, at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York. "Higher physical functioning and higher grip strength were associated with lower mortality and lower risk of cardiovascular events, independent of weight change."

Better Grip for Everyone

The recent study adds to previous research with similar results. For both men and women, grip strength is increasingly seen as a key indicator of healthy aging.

For example, a 2019 research analysis in Clinical Interventions in Aging noted that grip strength is a unique indicator of overall strength and there are correlations with upper limb function, bone mineral density, and fracture risk. Brain health, depression, and nutritional status also are related to a person's grip strength.

The analysis noted that significantly lower grip strength than normal has been associated with physical limitations, including less ability to walk for at least 6 minutes.

Another study, in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, compared measurements of grip strength to mobility impairment and found a strong association. Men with a handgrip of fewer than 32 kilograms were 88% more likely to have mobility issues, and women with fewer than 21 kilograms were 89% more likely, regardless of other lifestyle behaviors or medical conditions.

The connection comes because a strong grip requires a degree of muscular force. It is also an indication of muscle mass throughout the body, especially during aging when this mass starts to decline.

Exercises to Improve Grip Strength

Grip exercises can bring benefits like a better range of motion in the wrists and hands, increased bone density, and stronger connective tissues.

Rocky Snyder, CSCS

Although boosting strength overall can lead to improvements in grip, there's a benefit to focusing on your grip specifically.

— Rocky Snyder, CSCS

"Although boosting strength overall can lead to improvements in grip, there's a benefit to focusing on your grip specifically [including improving bone density]," says strength and conditioning coach Rocky Snyder, CSCS, author of strength training guide Return to Center. Snyder suggests these exercises as a starting point:

  • Ball squeeze: Grab a tennis ball and squeeze firmly repetitively for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Build up to several sets a day.
  • Plate pinch: Place two 5-pound weight plates together. Pinch the plates with thumb and forefinger and hold the plates down by your side. Take a walk and go as far as you can without the plates sliding out of your grip.
  • Farmer's carry: Grip a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell in one hand and go for a walk. Go until your grip is about to fail. 
  • Dead hang: Simply hang from a chin-up bar for as long as possible, maybe starting with 15 seconds and working your way up to longer holds a few times per week.

Even just doing finger and palm stretches and fists a few times per day can help alleviate strain in the hands and help with your grip strength sessions in the long run.

What This Means For You

Greater grip strength can be an indication of overall mobility and function as you age, according to a recent study. Working on strength overall is helpful, as well as doing specific exercises to improve your grip. Talk to a healthcare provider before adding grip exercises to your routine. They can help you determine what is right for you.

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5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Underland, LJ, Schnatz, PF, Wild, RA, et al. The impact of weight change and measures of physical functioning on mortality. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2022; 1- 8. doi:10.1111/jgs.17626

  3. Bohannon RW. Grip strength: An indispensable biomarker for older adultsClin Interv Aging. 2019;14:1681-1691. Published 2019 Oct 1. doi:10.2147/CIA.S194543

  4. Delinocente MLB, de Carvalho DHT, Máximo R de O, et al. Accuracy of different handgrip values to identify mobility limitation in older adultsArchives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. 2021;94:104347. doi:10.1016/j.archger.2021.104347

  5. Silver Sneakers. The 1-minute strength fitness test that will help you stay independent.