Your handshake can do more than make a good first impression: Word is grip strength is an important factor in determining whether or not you have a healthy heart. Even though hand grip tests aren't part of a physical exam, they may be the most accurate way to assess heart health—even more accurate than your blood pressure—according to a new study out of McMaster University in Canada.
The study, published in the British journal The Lancet, followed roughly 140,000 adults aged 35 to 70 from 17 countries over four years. Participants' muscle strength was measured using a handgrip tool.
Researchers found that for every five kilogram (11 pound) decline in grip strength, there was a 16 percent increased risk of death from any cause, and a 17 percent greater risk of death from either heart disease or stroke.
And while it's unclear why this relationship exists, the link between grip strength and a healthy heart remained strong even after taking into account oodles of other factors, such as age, education, employment, level of physical activity, and tobacco and alcohol use.
Other health conditions were factored in as well, such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, coronary artery disease, COPD—even the wealth of each country was considered.
Researchers also suggest grip strength can predict how someone will handle an illness, rather than just the likelihood they'll end up with one. When they looked at what happened to an ill person—whether from cardiovascular disease or other causes—those who had high grip strength had better outcomes than those who didn't.
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“We think it fits the measure of someone’s frailty, and frailty can be thought of as your ability to withstand having a disease,” lead study author Dr. Darryl Leong, an assistant professor of medicine at the university's School of Medicine, said to CTV News.
Further research needs to be done to establish whether efforts to improve muscle strength may also reduce a person's chances of illness. (I don't know about you, but I suddenly feel an urge to open every jar I can find.)
In an editorial that accompanied the study, Avan Aihie Sayer, a professor at the University of Southampton, and Thomas Kirkwood, a professor at Newcastle University in the UK, wrote: "This is not a new idea, but findings from [this study] add support."
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Heart image via Shutterstock