Can Grip Strength Increase Your Lifespan?

September 26, 2023

Grip strength measures how strong your hand and forearm muscles are when you hold something. Given how often we use our hands for everyday tasks, it's one of the strongest physical associations with living longer.

Not enough can be said about the importance of grip strength as you age. From pulling weeds in the garden to playing tennis with friends, almost every physical task we have begins with our hands. 

In this article we turned to longevity expert Dr. Peter Attia and his book Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity to discover the link between grip strength and lifespan.

What Is Grip Strength?

Before we dive into the importance of grip strength, we need to know what it is and how it's measured.

Grip strength refers to how much force your hand and forearm muscles can exert to grasp an object. There are several types of grip strength, including: 

  • Crush Grip: This measures how hard you can crush an object between your palms and fingers (like squeezing a bottle).
  • Support Grip: This  is how long you can hold onto an object (like groceries). It's important for activities like carrying groceries. 
  • Pinch Grip: This is how hard you can pinch an object between your fingertips and your thumb (like holding a pen or pencil). 

Grip strength is typically measured in pounds, kilograms, or Newtons by squeezing a type of muscle strength testing equipment, known as a dynamometer. The average grip strength for women is a squeeze of about 44 pounds (lbs) and men typically measure around 73 lbs (1).

A hand gripping a dynamometer

What Causes Poor Grip Strength?

Grip strength is affected by physiological factors, including age, gender, weight, hand size, upper arm size, etc.

On average, grip strength performance tends to peak around 30 to 40 years of age and then starts to decrease at a rate of about .42 lbs per year between 50 and 67 years of age and 1 lb per year between 67 and 96 years of age (2).

Your dominant hand will often have a stronger grip because you use it more. But there are several reasons you can have reduced grip strength in one or both hands. These include: 

  • Recent hand injuries like carpal tunnel, tendonitis, or a hand fracture 
  • A pinched nerve in your neck that causes numbness, tingling, and weakness in one arm and hand
  • Medical conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease 

What’s the Importance of Grip Strength?

Now that you know what grip strength is, here’s how it plays into your lifespan.

Can Indicate Early Signs of Sarcopenia

Your grip strength is a great indicator of your overall strength and muscle mass. Low grip strength in older adults is considered to be an indicator of sarcopenia (age-related muscle atrophy). It’s one of the leading health issues in seniors and can increase disability risk, falls, injuries related to falls, hospitalization, limitation of independence, and mortality (3).

Can Decrease the Risk of Injury-Related Falls

Dr. Attia focuses heavily on grip strength and its importance in preventing falls. He says, “A strong grip gives you a greater chance of catching yourself after losing your balance, therefore avoiding the downward spiral in health that often follows an injury.”

Grip strength complements eccentric (downward) strength. Eccentric strength improves stability and deceleration and makes you less likely to lose your balance, grip strength provides a back-up level of protection for those inevitable occasions when you may stumble. 

The better you are at gripping supports, the less likely that a lapse in balance will result in a full-fledged fall and serious injury. And as you age, this difference between catch and no catch becomes increasingly important.

Can Reduce the Risk of Early Death

Weak grip strength has been shown to be a better predictor of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and heart attacks than systolic blood pressure (4). Another study found that those with lower grip strength were more likely to have diabetes or record a higher blood pressure (5).

A large UK study found that a grip strength measurement of less than 35 lbs for women and less than 57 lbs for men was associated with higher overall risk of death and higher risk for specific illnesses (6).

For every 11 lb decrease of grip strength below these thresholds, the risk of death from all causes increased by 20% for women and 16% for men. Here are the specifics:

  • Risk of death from heart disease increased by 19% for women and 22% for men. 
  • Risk of death from respiratory disease increased by 31% for women and 24% for men.
  • Risk of deaths from all cancers increased by 17% for women and 10% for men.

Can Help Maintain Brain Health

A 2022 study found that poor handgrip strength in midlife was associated with cognitive decline a decade later (7). More than 190,000 dementia-free men and women (average age 56) were involved in the study and followed for at least 10 years. 

Participants underwent brain imaging and took tests that measured handgrip strength, problem-solving skills, memory, and reasoning abilities. People with lower grip scores were more likely to have problems with thinking and memory—and an increased risk of dementia— later in life than those who'd had higher handgrip strength scores at the start of the study. 

In the words of Dr. Attia, “If your grip is weak, everything else is compromised.”

How Can I Increase My Grip Strength?

As an athlete and trainer in a sport that relies heavily on grip strength, I have done a wide array of grip strength exercises. The ones that have made the most difference are remarkably uncomplicated. Here are some of my (and Dr. Attia’s) favorites:

Farmer’s Carry

My absolute favorite way to train grip strength is a classic farmer’s carry, where you walk for a minute or so with a weight in each hand. Dr. Attia suggests that women should work towards carrying 75% of their body weight for 1 minute. And men should work towards carrying their full body weight for 1 minute.

Now this is a goal that requires time and patience to work towards—please don’t try it during your next workout. Starting with a light weight and working slowly up, many of Dr. Attia’s patients need up to a year of training before they can even attempt this test.

NativeTip: For a proper farmer’s carry, keep your shoulder blades down and back, not pulled up or hunched forward.

Dead Hang

Another way to increase and test your grip is by dead-hanging from a pull-up bar for as long as you can. This is not an everyday exercise, it’s a once-in-a-while test. You simply grab the bar and just hang there, supporting your body weight.

While this exercise is simple, it’s sneakily challenging. It helps strengthen your shoulder stabilizer muscles. Dr. Attia likes to see women aged forty hang for at least 90 seconds and men aged forty for at least 2 minutes. The amount of time to aim for reduces slightly for each decade past forty.

Ball Squeezes

Training your grip doesn’t require a gym membership. Squeezing a ball is a great way to engage your wrist and finger flexors and improve your crush grip. You can use a foam stress ball or a tennis ball for this exercise. 

  1. Hold the ball in your right hand with your palm facing up and your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. 
  2. Use your four fingers to clench the ball as hard as you can. Do not use your thumb for this exercise.
  3. Hold the squeeze for 5 seconds and release it. 
  4. Clench and release 10 times, then repeat steps 1 through 3 with your left hand. You can practice this exercise 5 to 10 times a day.

Towel Wringing

This exercise works your crush grip and strengthens the muscles needed for your support grip. You can start this move with a small hand or face towel and then work your way up to a larger towel. 

  1. Wet a towel and hold it horizontally in front of you, grasping each end. 
  2. Twist each end of the towel in opposite directions to wring out the water. 
  3. Repeat up to 5 times. 
Kat Kennedy
Article by

Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy is the Fitness and Nutrition Editor at NativePath. With a NASM CPT, NCSF CPT, and NCSF Sports Nutrition Certification, she has a passion for giving people the tools they need to feel healthy, strong, and confident.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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