Get a grip and live longer

By JENNY HOPE Time of article published May 16, 2014

Share this article:

London - If you can spring energetically from your chair and then give someone a strong handshake, doctors have some good news for you.

And if you can also balance on one leg for up to 30 seconds with your eyes closed, then that’s a bonus as well.

Because middle-aged people who perform well on these three tasks are more likely to have a long and healthy life, according to researchers.

In contrast, those with a poor hand grip who are slow to get out of a chair and struggle to balance are at greater risk of dying within the next decade or so.

A study found that low levels of physical capability at the age of 53 suggest poorer chances of survival over the next 13 years compared with those in better shape. Those with the weakest physical performance on the tests had 12 times higher death rates than those who could do them all.

It is thought that poorer performance may be an indicator of disease, either diagnosed or undetected, and faster ageing.

Physical strength at the age of 53 was a good objective assessment for risk of premature death, said Dr Rachel Cooper, who led the study at the Medical Research Council Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at University College London.

Dr Cooper said: “Even at this relatively young age these measures identify groups of people who are less likely than others to achieve a long and healthy life.”

The study involved 1 355 men and 1 411 women for whom there was data on physical capability at the age of 53.

Death rates from all causes over the following 13 years up to the age of 66 were established, according to a report in the online medical journal bmj.com.

Physical capability was assessed during home visits at the age of 53 using three markers – strength of hand grip, speed of rise from a chair, and standing balance time where the individual had to stand on one leg for up to 30 seconds with their eyes closed.

The team of researchers noted 177 deaths between the ages of 53 and 66.

Those with the lowest physical ability scores – in the bottom fifth – had higher rates of death from any cause than those in the highest fifth for performance.

People who could not perform any of the tests at 53 had over 12 times higher death rates when compared with people able to perform all three tests.

Those with lower scores tended to be less well-off, have less healthy lifestyles and suffer from more chronic conditions, but these factors were taken into account by the researchers.

Dr Cooper said: “Our study shows robust associations of standing balance time, chair rise speed and grip strength at age 53 with all cause mortality rates over 13 years of follow-up.

“This suggests that there is value in using these simple and inexpensive tests to assess physical capability in mid-life in research and possibly also in applied settings to identify those people who are less likely than others to achieve a long and healthy life.”

In the US, a trial is under way to see the effects of frail older people being asked to do more physical activity under supervision.

Previous studies have found that slower walking speed in middle age was associated with lower total cerebral brain volume – or fewer “grey” cells – while brisk walking had a range of health benefits.

Other research also found that a stronger hand grip strength was associated with larger cerebral brain volume as well as better performance on cognitive tests.

American researchers found, in a second study reported in the journal, that those who spend more time in physical activity of a light intensity every day had less chance of becoming disabled by arthritis in the knee. - Daily Mail


Other things your handshake can tell you

A handshake can tell a lot about a person. Researchers say the strength of someone's grip may reveal how fast they're aging, their education level - and even their future health.

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis researchers reviewed more than 50 published studies from around the world for their article in the journal PLOS ONE.

They found that people with more education at age 69 tended to grip just as strongly as less educated people at age 65, suggesting the latter were aging about four years faster.

“According to hand grip strength, people with high education... feel several years younger compared to people with lower education,” study author Sergei Scherbov told AFP.

Another study the authors reviewed was done on more than a million Swedish adolescent males, whose handgrip strength was measured as part of an exam for military service.

Those with lower handgrip strength were significantly more likely to die earlier, have heart disease, be at higher risk of suicide and experience psychological problems.

Differences in health that correlated with handgrip strength could be seen across many of the studies, the researchers said.

“Low handgrip strength has been shown definitively to predict poor outcomes in a wide variety of mortality, morbidity, and other health outcomes,” said the PLOS ONE study.

However, any educational and racial differences that could be parsed by handgrip tended to disappear as people reached their 90s.

The study was funded by the European Research Council as part of a grant to define new measures of aging based on people's characteristics, such as their longevity, health, disability status and other demographic factors. - Sapa-AFP

Share this article:

Related Articles