January 19, 2022
Get a Grip
This bonus benefits of lifting heavy sh*t may also help you live a longer, healthier life.
By Selene Yeager
A strong grip does more than help you open jars by yourself. It’s also been linked with a longer life. Research finds that grip strength is inversely associated with the risk of dying early from any cause in older adults. That association stands up regardless of age, nutritional status, number of prescription drugs taken, how many chronic diseases you have, and cardiovascular fitness. This association tends to be even stronger in women.
Importantly, a 2022 study titled The impact of weight change and measures of physical functioning on mortality shows that muscle strength as measured by grip strength is more important for longevity than weight loss.
In the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 5,000 women, average age 78, who had enrolled in the Long Life Study (LLS) of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). To qualify for the LLS, the women had to turn at least 63 by January 1, 2012, at which time they had a clinical assessment that included handgrip strength, a timed walk test, no-handed chair stands, and balance tests. They also assessed their long-term weight change over a period of between 14 and 18 years.
After following this group of women for five and a half years for this study, the researchers found that those who lost 5 or more percent of body weight over the prior period had a 60 percent higher risk of dying from any cause. That was true for women with and without history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease. The reason why is unclear, but weight loss (which is often the result of muscle loss in this demographic) is associated with frailty, which increases risk for early death. Weight gain, on the other hand, didn’t have any effect on their health and longevity outcomes.
What did have an impact was higher handgrip strength, which was associated with lower risk of early death from any cause, regardless of weight change. The stronger the grip, the better the outcome.
Functional fitness was also super important: there was a 71 percent lower risk of early death between those who performed the best on functional fitness tests assessing speed, balance, and lower body and core strength and those who scored the lowest. Again, that was independent of if they lost or gained weight.
Obviously, this is observational, so it doesn’t establish that poor strength causes an earlier death or vice versa. But the researchers did analyze the data to rule out “reverse causality” (i.e. the women were getting weaker and experiencing premature death because they were sick) by controlling for chronic conditions like diabetes, history of heart disease or stroke, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. None of it changed the outcome.
This isn’t the first time grip strength has been associated with longevity in women. A study done in the U.K., which followed 502 293 participants (54% women) ages 40 to 69 for about seven years also found that for both women and men, lower grip strength was associated with a higher risk of premature death from all causes as well as incidence and death from heart disease, respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and all cancer.
What does all this mean? Keep lifting heavy sh*t! Lifting heavy activates and strengthens every muscle in your body and naturally improves your grip strength. A strong grip and good functional ability means you’re going to be able to live a more active, engaged life of hoisting suitcases, swinging hammers, carrying stuff up and down the stairs, and generally getting after it.
If you need another reason to lift heavy, building strong hands is especially important this time of life. Research shows that the menopause transition is associated with a decline in grip strength. Greater physical activity helps. Grab a kettlebell or barbell today.