May 14, 2015 01:30 PM EDT
Do you have a weak grip when grasping items with your hands or is your handshake weak compared to others? If so, it could mean your health is in danger, according to a new study.
Researchers in Canada have linked poor hand grip strength to a greater risk of stroke, heart attack and even an early death. For the study, published in the journal Lancet, researchers followed almost 140,000 adults from 17 different countries. They found that grip strength is a "stronger predictor of death than systolic blood pressure."
"We think it fits the measure of someone's frailty, and frailty can be thought of as your ability to withstand having a disease," lead study author Dr. Darryl Leong says.
It has been known for quite some time that lack of muscle strength is associated with illness and early death. However, data linking grip strength and major health problems has been lacking until now.
Researchers measured the hand grip strength of adults living in 17 culturally and economically diverse countries including Iran, China, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Sweden. The study involved adults between the ages of 35 and 70, who were followed for over four years. They were asked to squeeze an object as hard as possible with their hands in order to measure the force exerted by their grip.
The study found that for every five kilogram decline in grip strength, the risk of death from any cause rose by 16 percent. In addition, those same people were also at a 17 percent greater risk of cardiovascular death and were 17 percent more likely to die of non-cardiovascular death. The risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke also increased by seven and nine percent respectively.
Researchers say those risks persisted even after other factors were taken into consideration, including age, physical activity, alcohol and tobacco use, and employment and education level.
Leong said that grip strength could be used as an "easy and inexpensive test" to assess a patients risk of death and cardiovascular disease.
"We now have evidence of a simple and inexpensive tool that can be used to identify individuals at high risk of dying and individuals at high risk of succumbing to illness," Leong says. "And this is particularly important in lower income settings."
Leong also said that more research must be done in order to determine whether improving muscular strength will reduce those risks.
Dr. Mary Nagai, a researcher at the Toronto Rehab Institute, said the findings have positive implications for a wide range of care.
"I think it is something that all of us could use in our offices, not just physicians," Nagai says. "It can be used for physiotherapists or nurses, particularly nurses who do housecalls to people who can't get out of their homes."
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