The strength of a person’s grip may indicate how likely they are to suffer heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems, according to an extensive new study.
After studying the results of nearly 140,000 patients in 17 countries, researchers estimated that the surprising link – theorised before but not confirmed in such a large study – is real, and may be even more accurate a predictor of mortality risk than systolic blood pressure.
Exactly why our muscle strength should be an indicator of heart disease risk or not yet clear, but the effect was observed in people of from different countries, income groups and of ages ranging from 35 to 70.
Grip strength is measured using a device called a handgrip dynamometer. For every 5kg decline in strength, researchers from the McMaster University in Canada observed a 17 per cent greater risk of death from cardiovascular causes – diseases of the heart and circulatory system.
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Experts behind the study said that grip strength could potentially be used as a low-cost, early warning system to identify patients at high risk – particularly those already with a history of cardiovascular disease, in whom it could be an indicator of a deteriorating condition.
The findings are published in The Lancet medical journal.
Lead author Dr Darryl Leong from the Population Health Research Institute, in Hamilton, Canada said: “Grip strength could be an easy and inexpensive test to assess an individual’s risk of death and cardiovascular disease. Further research is needed to establish whether efforts to improve muscle strength are likely to reduce an individual’s risk of death and cardiovascular disease.”
Experts said the findings of the study, part of a wide-ranging, ongoing investigation into long-term illnesses called the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology study, meant there was now “no doubt that grip predicts future all-cause mortality across a range of populations”.
Professor Avan Aihie Sayer from the University of Southampton and Professor Thomas Kirkwood from Newcastle University said that the fact strength was related to cardiovascular health and not other conditions such as diabetes, cancer and respiratory illness suggested that the cause may have something to do with the mechanical function of the muscles and skeleton, and its link to the cardiovascular system.
“The findings from this study add to the growing evidence that skeletal muscle function is an important component of health, ageing, and disease,” they said.