Your handshake says more about your health than you think

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The firmness of a handshake is a better measure than a blood pressure reading when assessing health, researchers have found.

Declining muscular strength, as measured by hand grip, is consistently linked with early death, disability and illness.

The research by the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University in Canada and Hamilton Health Sciences is published in the medical journal The Lancet.

“Grip strength could be an easy and inexpensive test to assess an individual’s risk of death and cardiovascular disease,” says Darryl Leong, an assistant professor of medicine. “Doctors or other healthcare professionals can measure grip strength to identify patients with major illnesses such as heart failure or stoke who are at particularly high risk of dying from their illness.”

The study followed almost 140,000 adults aged 35 to 70 over four years in 17 countries. Muscle strength was measured using a device called a handgrip dynamometer.

The researchers found that for every five kilogram decline in grip strength, there was a one in six increased risk of death from any cause. There was the same 17% higher risk of death from either heart disease or stroke, or non-cardiovascular conditions.

Healthy grip strength does depend on the individual’s size and weight, and in this study appeared to vary with ethnicity. Further analysis is needed to identify the cut-offs for healthy grip strength in people from different countries.

Leong also says more research is needed to establish whether efforts to improve muscle strength are likely to reduce risk of death and cardiovascular disease.

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