Since most of us have a good chance of reaching our 80s, really, who among us thinks about when and how we will die? But the truth is you can do something NOW to help ensure you are one of the “most.”
If you missed part 1 of our series on longevity, it turns out there are several indicators we can measure today that predict your longevity in the future. Click here to catch up about Waist circumference to Height Ratio (WtHR); next up we’ll take the Sit and Rise Test and Stand on 1-leg for 10-seconds; and, today we’ll discuss the reason grip strength and exercise matter.
“The fact that you have a weak grip is important because you probably are weak elsewhere,” — Dr. Steven Bohannon, professor of Physical Therapy in the Department of Kinesiology at the NEAG School at The University of Connecticut)
Over the past 10 years, many studies researching the effectiveness of measuring grip strength as an indicator of overall health and vitality have been conducted. Their findings just might surprise you.
Dr. Steven Bohannon, a professor of Physical Therapy in the Department of Kinesiology at the NEAG School at The University of Connecticut, believes grip strength is an important screening tool to asses a person’s overall health. He says, “There are other things, like unintentional weight loss and a particularly slow gait. But grip strength gives you an overall sense of someone’s vitality. It is reflective of muscle mass and can be used to predict things in the future like post-operative complications and even death.”
Determining muscle mass and strength levels are very useful tools for health care practitioners to determine a patient’s health and fitness. They can prescribe nutrition guidelines and an exercise program to improve or enhance a person’s health and vitality. Bohannon says, “It’s not that I want their grip strength to be bigger or better, I want them to be stronger. I want them to be fit. They need reserve in case they experience an untoward event such as an infection.”
In 2008, Dr. Bohannon conducted a peer review of forty-five journal articles to assess the adequacy of using hand grip dynamometry as a predictor of important health outcomes. Most of the studies he reviewed focused on middle-aged and older adults. The results were published in the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy and supported his theory that grip strength is a predictor of mortality, disability, complications, and increase length of a hospital stay.
“You really can tell a little bit about the people and where they (their health) stand, based on grip strength,” says Dr. Bohannon. Bohannon’s studies shine a light for many others to understand the importance of grip strength. Daily activities, like shopping, getting in and out of a chair, raking leaves, lifting things, carrying grocery bags, and many others are easier when you have strong hands.
“The fact that you have a weak grip is important because you probably are weak elsewhere.” He adds, “It’s a window into your world…it provides a peek behind the curtain at your health status.”
Strong hands are immensely important as we age. In an article by Margaret Martin, a physiotherapist and Strength and Conditioning Coach (CSCS) writes, “Without grip strength your balance could be at risk and a serious fall a real possibility. In circumstances when an aging individual requires a walker, cane or railing for help, grip strength is the “make or break” factor.
According to Dr. Bohannon’s research, the link between grip strength and overall health and vitality are especially strong in later years. “Older adults with weak grips are more likely to become disabled or die sooner, he says. When paired with other signs – such as slow walking or trouble standing up from a chair – a weak grip is a reliable sign of overall frailty in old age.”
How to Fix
Pick up and put down heavy, malleable, or not perfectly shaped, items. At Fitness on the Run, we adore loaded “carries.” You pick up a sandbag, a box of bricks, a bag of potatoes, a case of water bottles, a full laundry basket, and you just walk. Walk 100 yards. Hey, even on the beam at FOR! If you can carry something heavy for 100 yards with good posture, in our book you are strong!
Heck, carrying a kid in interesting ways can be challenging and fun – for them!
The next important factor contributing to longevity is exercise. While you may know it is important, here are several poignant reasons why.
A 2012 Swedish study found that individuals older than 75 who were also physically active and joined in social activities lived an average of 5.4 years longer than their less-active peers. Even at 85, a physically active and social lifestyle can bring an extra 4 years of longevity. The most important factor in longevity of the study participants was physical activity, which alone was linked to an extra two or more years of life.
The study actually followed what occurs at the cellular level in the body during exercise. Exercise triggers “mitochondrial biogenesis,” a term that refers to the synthesis of new mitochondria in muscle tissue, and decline in which is common in aging.
The so-called “father” of exercise physiology John Holloszy, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, found that endurance training induced increased mitochondrial content and increased the ability of muscle to use glucose for energy. So exercise not only adds extra years to your life, but can make a difference even if you start exercising in your senior years. How great is that?
One of my new favorite PhDs I follow, Dr. Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, director of Tufts University John Hancock Research Center of Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity, says “It you look at the health of people along the whole spectrum, from very sedentary to athletes, the fitness graph isn’t a straight line. It turns out that the biggest jump comes at the very bottom of the range. The less active you are now; the more benefit you get from adding even a small amount of exercise to your life.” Dr. Nelson also heads a website called “Strongwomen – Lifting Women to Better Health”. Don’t you just love her already?
Directly from Strongwomen website: Dr. Nelson posts, “Seek out active transport as often as possible. Walk or bike instead of driving. Break a sweat one or more times a week. Find new opportunities to be active during the week. Take a walk with friends, shovel snow, go to a rock-climbing gym…” The list goes on.
As we age, starting an exercise program can be daunting. Stuff happens; delays happen and we end up putting it off until tomorrow, next week, next year…or even never. Concerns about getting hurt or not doing exercises correctly can prevent many from exercise. However, those are exactly the reasons TO start one. Exercise can put you in a happy mood, prevent a long list of injuries, relieve stress and improve your sense of well-being.
How to fix
Start your day with 2, then 5, then 8, then 10 minutes of exercise. Two minutes of simply getting on and off the floor can start your day off right. Two minutes of squeezing your bottom. Two minutes of carrying something up and down a set of stairs. You’ll feel more energy and motivated to eat better, which positively contributes to brain health and a longer, more vital life.
And when you are ready, meet with a fitness professional who can develop a program specifically for YOU! We at FOR would love to meet you and help take care of YOU!