To prevent strokes and live longer, get a good grip

How’s your handshaking technique? Firm? Weak? So-so? According to researchers at McMaster University in Canada, your grip on others says a lot about your lifespan and health.

If you have a weak grip and a limp handshake, say the scientists, you have a significantly higher chance of heart attack or stroke and dying sooner than someone who can grasp things strongly. The McMaster four-year study analyzed the grip strength and health of about 140,000 people in 17 countries. These people, aged 35 to 70, were taking part in research called the The Prospective Urban-Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. Grip strength for the research was measured using a tool called a handgrip dynamometer.

The Canadian researchers at the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences say that your grip strength more accurately predicts your life expectancy than your blood pressure. They argue that it represents an easy test that healthcare practitioners should use to check if their clients are at an increased risk of life-threatening health problems like stroke or heart failure.

The tests demonstrated that for every 5 kilogram (11 pound) decrease in grip strength, your risk for dying in the next four years (from any cause) climbs by 16 percent. The same reduction in grip is linked to a 17 percent increased chance of dying from heart disease in that time, a 17 percent bigger risk of dying from something other than heart disease, a 7 percent bigger chance of succumbing to a heart attack and a 9 percent increased chance of suffering a fatal stroke.

So what does this mean for you? If you’ve noticed that you’re losing your grip – having more trouble unscrewing the tops of bottles in the kitchen, wrestling with screw drivers to undo screws that used to seem easier to turn or even problems cranking a wind-up toy or clock, it’s probably time to confer with your healthcare practitioner to see if your health is in danger.

This should also offer you greater motivation to start eating a better diet filled with fruits and vegetables, using olive oil with your meals and getting some consistent grip and wrist exercise.

For more grip strength, there are exercises you can do right at home. You might consider buying one of those “stress balls” at a sporting goods store, but you don’t need one. Just start with a tennis ball. Squeeze for a few seconds, hold it, and then release. Do this a few times a day. When you get stronger, use a racquetball. It’s smaller and firmer, and will make you even stronger.

My colleague Dr. Mark Wiley has an excellent video that shows you how to get more grip strength right here.

Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.