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Image by Jelena Jojic Tomic / Stocksy
November 15, 2020

Grip strength is a well-known metric in the fitness world—it's crucial for lifting heavier weights and therefore building more muscle. Beyond workouts, it's also essential for daily tasks, like carrying grocery bags, holding your dog's leash, or opening a jar.

Now, according to a new study published in BMC Medicine, grip strength could indicate more than your ability to carry heavy weights—it may also be associated with common mental disorders.

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What the research suggests.

In this study, researchers in the U.K. sought to observe any associations between markers of cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and grip strength, with anxiety and depression.

They examined data from U.K. Biobank—a prospective cohort study with data points from 502,682 participants ages 40 to 69 in England, Scotland, and Wales. For the purposes of this study, researchers homed in on participants who had at least one measure of grip strength or CRF at baseline, along with those who had completed a Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) and Generalised Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) to gauge information on their mental health.

After analyzing the data, researchers found that low and medium CRF was associated with 1.485 and 1.141 higher odds of depression anxiety, compared to high CRF. Plus, people with low and medium grip strength had 1.381 and 1.116 higher chance. Participants who were in the lowest group for both CRF and grip strength had a 1.981 higher risk of either mental disorder.

So, why do these results matter?

As the study authors write, "This finding highlights the importance of focusing on multiple components of fitness and their associations with mental health." They believe physical fitness could be an "objectively measurable indicator and a modifiable risk factor" for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Of course, considering the positive impact physical fitness can have on mental health, it's not entirely surprising to see these associations. But it is interesting to specifically consider a lack of grip strength and cardiorespiratory fitness as possible risk factors since there are actionable ways to improve both of these metrics.

As for cardiorespiratory fitness, incorporating more activities that elevate your heart rate1, such as running, HIIT, jump rope, brisk walking, and swimming are great options. When it comes to grip strength, regular resistance training is key. You can also try 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.

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Kristine Thomason
Kristine Thomason
mbg Health & Fitness Director

Kristine Thomason is the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen. Kristine is a New York University graduate with a degree in journalism and psychology, and also a NASM-certified personal trainer. She has spent her editorial career focused on health and well-being, and formerly worked for Women’s Health and Health. Her byline has also appeared in Men’s Health, Greatist, Refinery29, HGTV, and more. In her current role she oversees, edits, and writes for the health, food, and movement sections of mindbodygreen.