Poor grip strength may indicate major health issues: study
AUSTRIA: According to a recent study, by checking grip strength, one can quickly and easily determine muscle strength, an important predictor of death. Researchers created threshold values for the general population in a recent study, taking into account the relationship between handgrip strength and gender, height, and age for use in clinical practice. The research results have been published in the journal ‘BMJ Open’.
Most people don’t mind opening jars of pickles or carrying groceries, but handle strength is an effective screening tool for different health conditions. If a person’s grip strength is poor, it can be an indication of underlying health problems – and not just in older people: grip strength has already been linked to health problems in young adults. .
A large number of studies have shown that poor grip strength can be a manifestation of health problems related to heart and lung problems. Some studies have also shown that people with poor grip strength have a shorter life expectancy.
What is missing for clinical practice are empirically meaningful thresholds that apply to the general population, while taking into account the correlation of handgrip strength with gender and body size, as well as the decrease of handle strength due to normal aging.
In their study just published in the journal BMJ Open, IIASA researcher Sergei Scherbov; Sonja Spitzer, postdoctoral fellow at the Wittgenstein Center for Demography and Global Human Capital and the University of Vienna; and Nadia Steiber from the University of Vienna, attempted to shed some light on the level of grip strength at which a physician should consider sending a patient for further examination.
The study results provide standardized thresholds that directly relate handgrip strength to remaining life expectancy, allowing practitioners to detect patients at increased mortality risk early.
“In general, grip strength depends on a person’s gender, age, and height. Our task was to find the threshold related to grip strength that would signal a practitioner to do further testing if a patient’s grip strength is below this threshold. It is similar to blood pressure measurement. When the blood pressure level is outside a particular range, the doctor can either decide to prescribe a particular drug , or send the patient to a specialist for further examination,” says Scherbov.
Grip strength is measured by squeezing a dynamometer with one hand. In the study, the patient is asked to perform two attempts with each hand, with the best attempt being used for measurement. There is a special protocol for this process as the values may depend on whether the test was performed in a standing or seated position, among other considerations.
Unlike previous studies, the authors compared individuals’ grip strength not with a healthy reference population, but with individuals comparable in gender, age, and body size. The results indicate an increase in mortality risk at a more sensitive threshold than that estimated in previous studies.
In fact, the results show that a grip strength that is only slightly lower than the average of a comparable population (taking into account a person’s gender, age and height) indicates problems with health leading to earlier death. A stronger handgrip compared to other people of the same age, sex and body size did not reduce mortality risk.
“Handgrip strength is cheap and easy to perform, but it can aid in the early diagnosis of health problems and other underlying health conditions. Monitoring the grip strength of older adults (and in done in middle-aged people) may offer great public health benefits to aging populations. Our results clearly show that grip strength is a very accurate and sensitive measure of underlying health conditions. Therefore, we suggest to use it as a screening tool in medical practice,” notes Steiber.
“It is important to emphasize that we are not suggesting that people should train grip strength specifically to reduce mortality risk. Most likely, if someone is improving their grip strength through exercise, they are not there will be no or very little impact on his overall health.
However, low grip strength can serve as an indicator of disability because it reflects low muscle strength, which is associated with a higher risk of death. A healthy lifestyle and exercise remain the best approaches to maintaining good health or improving it over the long term,” Spitzer concludes.