You already know the benefits of strong bones and a strong core. But why is grip strength important?
A video I produced on exercise for strong hands recently hit over 190,000 views on YouTube. A second video recently reached over 43,000 views. Obviously, there are a lot of people online who think grip strength is important for their health and their lifestyle!
Why Is Grip Strength Important?
A strong grip can improve your overall quality of life. (In can also be very useful if your hobby is rock climbing and, like the young lady in the photo, you find yourself hanging from a cliff .)
Most activities of daily living are much easier when you have a strong grip. Household activities, shopping (lifting and holding those grocery bags), shovelling snow, raking leaves, lifting heavy objects, mowing the lawn, and weeding the garden are much easier for people who have strong hands.
As you age you will need to keep up grip strength because you need strong hands to grip railings and possibly walkers. Without grip strength your balance could be at risk and a serious fall a real possibility.
Health and fitness professionals need grip strength. For many of you, your hands are your “tools of your trade”. I made the two videos after working with Adrian Das, a Massage Therapist in Ottawa (see them later in this blog).
Grip Strength a Good Indicator of Overall Health
Many health and fitness professionals use measuring devices such as a dynamometer to test the functional grip strength of their clients. Functional grip strength is a good indicator of overall health. The owner of a strong grip usually has a strong body because they follow a complete exercise program that includes strength training. Further, grip strength can predict future health outcomes in aging adults. This answers the question: why is grip strength important?
A systematic review of peer-reviewed journal articles assessing hand-grip dynamometry as a predictor of important health outcomes by Richard Bohannon, Professor of Physical Therapy in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, published in the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy supports this.
The review identified forty-five relevant research articles on grip strength. The articles typically involved middle-aged and older adults and looked at various outcomes including mortality/survival, disability, complications and increased length of hospital stay.
The published results are significant. In the review Dr. Bohannon reported:
Low grip strength was a consistent predictor of death and high grip strength was a consistent predictor of survival in studies with diverse samples of subjects. Sixteen of 23 studies provided unqualified support for the use of grip strength as a predictor of mortality/survival.
Further, the review found that weakness in middle age was predictive of problems later – specifically the onset of disability. Those who were weaker in their 40’s and 50’s were more likely to demonstrate an onset of disability in their 60’s.
In an interview regarding the review, Dr. Bohannon stated that maintaining fitness helps individuals combat infection and rebound from illness. Dr. Bohannon goes onto say:
If you experience weakness that accompanies aging and you have a stroke or serious infection, it can definitely be a problem. For instance, if it takes all the strength you can muster to get out of a chair now and you suddenly get a urinary tract infection, it is likely you will have more trouble getting up because you don’t have any reserve.
Grip Strength Exercises for Elderly
Now that you know the answer to the question: why is grip strength important, lets look at how to improve functional grip strength. These exercises can be used by anyone, but I think that they are great grip strength exercises for elderly.
Several years ago I produced two videos on hand exercises that increase grip strength and published them on YouTube. We video taped an exercise routine by Adrian Das, a Massage Therapist and now a Rock Climbing teacher in Ottawa.
He is also an accomplished rock climber. His hands are critical to his safety. Without a strong grip, Adrian would not be able to do many of the moves he needs to do to complete his climbs.
In Part 1 of the two part video set, Adrian covers his recommended flexibility exercises for his hands. Adrian points out that his work and recreation involve a lot of repetitive movements of his hands and in many cases these involve fine movements. He states that these repeated movements, although they build strength, can lead to injury. To avoid injury, Adrian regularly follows his own “pre-hab exercise routine” that addresses the need for mobility, flexibility and strength in his hands.
In Part 2 of the video set, recommends that anyone who uses their hands at work – musicians, and office workers – as well as recreational athletes follow this program. Adrian covers strength exercises for the hands. About four minutes into the video, Adrian demonstrates several self-massage exercises and trigger points.
The stretches and self massage are safe for anyone. If you have to work with your hands and need to develop a strong grip, I recommend that you progress gradually through the strength exercises as some of the exercises that Adrian demonstrates are quite challenging.
Osteoporosis Exercise Plan
Visit my Osteoporosis Exercise Plan page for more information on this topic.