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Grip strength ‘easy way’ of screening for long-term disease risk

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Measuring the strength of someone’s grip could be a cheap, easy and effective way of identifying people at high risk of a wide range of diseases including heart problems and cancer, a study suggests.

The study, led by the University of Glasgow, found a weaker grip was linked to a higher rate of – and risk of death from – cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer.

“The addition of the measurement of grip strength may be useful in screening for risk of cardiovascular disease”

Stuart Gray

In contrast, a stronger grip was associated with a lower risk of all causes of death, according to the research published in the British Medical Journal.

The researchers said their findings showed the grip test, which only takes seconds to do, could be a valuable tool for nurses and other clinicians when it came to assessing patients and indicating those who might benefit from further tests.

They looked at data on more than 500,000 people from the UK Biobank to see whether grip strength was a useful measure.

Not only was lower grip strength linked to a range of poor health outcomes, it also outperformed other common tests such as checking blood pressure when it came to predicting risk of illness and death.

Lead author Stuart Gray, lecturer in exercise and metabolic health at the university’s Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Science, said other studies had shown reduced muscle strength was linked with poor health and greater likelihood of death.

“We wanted to investigate the association of grip strength with the incidence of specific diseases and mortality, and whether grip strength could be used in the clinic to enhance the prediction of an established office-based risk score,” he said.

“We found that, not only was lower grip strength strongly associated with a broad range of adverse health outcomes, but that it predicted risk of death and cardiovascular disease even more strongly than systolic blood pressure or physical activity,” he added.

“Going forward, we need to perform trials which measure grip strength in clinical settings”

Stuart Gray

Currently, a patient’s risk of ill health is assessed by gathering basic information about their age, sex, body mass index, systolic blood pressure, smoking habits and whether or not they have diabetes.

The researchers said their findings indicated that measuring grip strength could be a useful addition, especially in settings where it is harder to access further tests such as blood tests to check cholesterol levels.

“Our findings are important, because they indicate that the addition of the measurement of grip strength may be useful in screening for risk of cardiovascular disease in community or rural settings, and in developing countries where access to measurements, such as total cholesterol, is not possible,” said Dr Gray.

“Going forward, we need to perform trials which measure grip strength in clinical settings and investigate its effectiveness in risk prediction,” he added.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • As someone who has cardiovascular disease - I hate to think what state my handshake would leave a person on the receiving end. I was ‘taught to’ offer a firm grip. Nothing worse than the flimsy ones I’ve been on the receiving end of.....let alone the clammy ones that may cause concern

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