A new study finds that testing someone’s hand strength is a simple, quick and cost-efficient way to determine their chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
McMaster University researchers studied almost 140.000 people in 17 different countries and found that a weak grip is a much stronger indicator of an early, premature death than checking blood pressure.
Reduced muscular strength, which can be measured by grip strength, has been clearly, undeniably and consistently linked to illnesses such as heart attacks and strokes.
Cardiologist Darryl Leong, lead researcher and assistant professor of medicine at McMaster, gave a statement saying “One important message is really how vulnerable you are to dying of a range of illnesses if you have lower grip strength”.
So next time someone crushes your hand when shaking it? You can blame science for encouraging them.
Patients were between the ages of 35 and 70 and participated in the study for four years. The 17 countries chosen for the survey were of great diversity, including everything from rich countries, to poor countries, and everything in between – Canada, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, Colombia, Poland, South Africa, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, to name a few.
The study, published in The Lancet, reveals that for every eleven pounds (five kilograms) decline in grip strength, the subjects had at least a 16 percent higher change of dying within the next four years, not necessarily due to heart attacks or strokes, but due to any disease or medical cause.
They were however 17 percent more likely to die from heart attacks or strokes, than any other illness. And they were also 7 percent more likely to have non-fatal heart attacks.
Among the patients suffering from cancer or chronic heart disease, those with a strong grip were more likely to survive the follow-up period than the ones with a weal grip.
Oddly enough, scientists found no link between weak muscles and deaths from falls that occur when one’s muscles give out.
Experts are bothered by not yet knowing what ties hand strength to heart disease. High cholesterol levels suggest that the arteries are gradually getting clogged. High blood pressure indicates that artery walls are being damaged. Hand strength has no obvious correlation to heart disease and the issue became even more puzzling, when other diseases such as pneumonia or diabetes could not be linked to it.
Dr. Bob McLean, a professor at the Harvard Medical School’s Institute for Aging Research who was not involved in the study, theorized that being one of the largest organ systems in body, a lot of age-related change takes place within the musculoskeletal system. He suggested that it could be a general marker of age-related changes.
Dr. Jack Guralnik, a gerontologist at the University at the Maryland School of Medicine, conducted a similar study about a decade ago and agrees with Dr. McLean’s theory. He explained that the musculoskeletal system indicates what’s going on in the rest of your body. If you’re physically fit, you will have a better grip and better strength in all of your muscles.
To establish the accuracy of their findings, Leong and his colleagues measured the muscle strength of the participants by asking them to squeeze a hand-held device called a dynamometer. They also took into account factors like age, education, employment, physical activity, and tobacco or alcohol use.
Professor Leong concluded that a person’s grip strength could be an easy and inexpensive test to assess their risk of death and cardiovascular disease. He admitted that further research is needed in order to establish whether or not efforts to improve muscle strength are likely to reduce an individual’s risk of death or cardiovascular disease.
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