A new study has directly linked handgrip strength to remaining life expectancy. The researchers have developed standard thresholds to enable clinical care providers to detect increased mortality risk early on.

Handgrip strength is measured by squeezing a tool called a dynamometer in one hand. It is used in screening for a variety of health conditions that may affect healthcare needs in older adults, such as bone loss and frailty. But meaningful cut-off points are missing, according to the researchers, from the University of Vienna. To be more useful, thresholds are needed that correlate handgrip strength with gender and body height, and take into account the natural decline in handgrip strength as a result of normal aging, they said.

The new study aimed to determine the level of handgrip strength at which a doctor should consider sending a patient for further examination. To do so, investigators compared individuals’ handgrip strength with those of their peers of comparable sex, age and body height, as opposed to a healthy reference population. 

A more sensitive measurement

The results allowed the researchers to determine a measurement threshold that is more sensitive compared to that estimated in earlier studies, they reported.

A handgrip strength measurement that is only slightly below the average of a comparable population indicates health conditions leading to earlier death, they said. Notably, a stronger handgrip in these comparisons was not linked to reduced mortality risk.

The findings make it clear that handgrip strength is a precise and sensitive measure of underlying health conditions, and the investigators recommend that it be used as a screening tool in medical practice — especially in older populations. The new thresholds allow clinicians to take action in a way that’s similar to measuring blood pressure, for example, said Sergei Scherbov, PhD, who also is affiliated with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

“When the level of blood pressure is outside of a particular range, the doctor can either decide to prescribe a particular medicine or to send the patient to a specialist for further examination,” he explained.

Full findings were published in BMJ Open.

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