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Grip It & Live It

Nov 05, 2021

By: Nick Sienkiewicz, DPT, CSCS

Did you know that the strength of your hands can tell you a great deal of information regarding how your body is functioning as a whole? Handgrip strength, or simply grip strength, has been shown to be associated with a variety of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and numerous cancers. Most of these studies indicate that weaker grip strength is not only linked to higher rates of these disorders, but also poorer outcomes when these diseases are present. Grip weakness has been associated with increased mortality, longer hospital stays, and increased injury recovery timeframes as well. This all makes sense because grip strength is a good indication of total body strength, which we know is vital for optimal functioning of the human body.

Clearly, improving grip strength can be extremely beneficial for your body. However, we must be careful to avoid being myopic and reductionist when it comes to improving grip strength. Individuals who have stronger hands are likely also participating in other healthy behaviors. Their health process is probably more refined as a whole than individuals who have weaker grips. Simply working on your grip strength is no guarantee to extend your life, but it is a great measure to track throughout your lifespan in order to help keep tabs on your body’s overall functional capacity. Much of the reason grip strength can provide us so much insight is because we know humans generally lose strength throughout the aging process. It is not necessarily about stopping this decline, but rather slowing it down. The longer we can maintain higher levels of full body strength, the better our bodies are at fighting off disease. Measurement of grip strength can provide a lens for a glimpse of your body’s general function at any given time.

More recently, researchers have found that foot intrinsic strength, which are just the small muscles of your feet, has been predictive of grip strength. Basically, weakness in the foot muscles tends to appear in conjunction with weakness in the hands. These two regions are intimately connected, as they are both our means of interacting with the environment and are vital to managing our daily activities. To my knowledge, no studies to date have shown that foot strength is specifically linked to increased mortality or disease, like the abundant research on grip strength. However, one could extrapolate that increased foot strength is also associated with improved quality of life because of the strong relationship between foot and handgrip strength! 

So what can you do about this information? Well, one of the best things you can do for yourself is partake in resistance training on a regular basis for the remainder of your life! This ranges from bodyweight exercises to heavy weight lifting and everything in between, and largely depends on the individual. Even though resistance training should be relative to each person, it is for everyone, no matter your age. It is never too late to start! If you need help in this regard, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at ProForm!

It is important to note that not all resistance training has been shown to specifically increase grip strength itself. In fact, there are some studies that indicate individuals gained no grip strength following long term resistance training programs. However, your resistance training will improve your total body strength, and thus allow you to maintain your grip strength into your later years of life! If you have the desire to explicitly enhance your grip strength, look no further than loaded carries. They are simple. Pick up heavy objects and move your body. You can do them in the weight room, with household items, or some random objects out in nature. The key to your carries is that you make it somewhat uncomfortable. You don’t necessarily have to get to the point of dropping things on your toes, but you should try to get close every once in a while if you want to make gains! Hanging from a pull up bar or a good old fashioned tree branch for as long as you can works really well too for enhancing grip strength.

If you found this information enlightening and would like to put your handgrip strength to the test, come join us at ProForm Physical Therapy on Saturday, November 20, 2021, where we along with our friends at Blanchette Financial Group will be hosting the first annual Turkey Trek. It is a fundraising event where we do loaded carries to raise money to purchase turkeys for those in need before Thanksgiving! 

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