This Biomarker Of Aging Doesn't Get Enough Attention: How To Support It
How do you measure muscle strength? Weightlifting and bodyweight exercises can certainly give you an idea, but there's a simpler way to get a sense of muscularity and overall fitness: grip strength.
Why grip strength is an important health indicator.
Grip strength has been used as an important measurement in research setting for a long time and in clinical practice for over a decade1, and it remains a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to test muscle strength. It's typically measured by a machine called a handgrip dynamometer, which you can find online or in most fitness centers.
Beyond muscle mass, grip strength has also been found to be an indicator of overall health in recent years. Increased muscle strength, as demonstrated by a stronger grip, has been associated with increased cardiovascular health in large, longitudinal population studies2. The force of one's grip has even been correlated to overall longevity3. "We know grip strength is a powerful indicator—and a potential biomarker of aging," Bjorn Heine Strand of the University of Oslo's Institute of Health and Society, tells Reuters.
As such, exercises that maintain muscle mass and grip strength become even more important as we get older (when muscle losses become more common, but not inevitable).
How to support it.
Interestingly, nutrition seems to play a role too: Older adults (above 60 years old) who consumed more omega-3's, fiber, and vitamin C in their diets were more likely to have greater hand grip strength in a 2016 study out of Korea4. Separate research out of India found that those who took supplements containing antioxidant-rich turmeric also had higher overall measures of hand grip strength, as well as increased weightlifting capacity and faster recovery times after exercise.* (Never underestimate the power of curcuminoids!)
And of course, regular resistance training is key for maintaining grip strength (and your bone health) as you age. Exercising any and all muscle groups will pay off in grip gains, but as mbg's health & fitness director Kristine Thomason previously explained, you can also work specific grip-strengthening exercises—like squeezing a tennis ball or stress ball, hanging on a pullup bar, or wringing out a towel with both hands—into your fitness routine.
Your grip strength can give you a quick read on the state of your muscle fitness—and your overall health. So be sure to keep that handshake firm by staying active, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and making regular resistance training a priority.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.