Get a Grip on How Long You Will Live

May 18, 2015

Get a Grip! Live Longer 

 Reference:   Lancet April 2015,  Economist May 2015 

 Want to get an accurate measure of how long you will live?   Give a handshake. Your grip strength will convey your prognosis. This is your most accurate gauge of longevity. How do we know? Published this week in the Lancet, Darryl Leong from McMaster University in Canada reviewed his data from the PURE (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology) study and found the accuracy of this prediction. 

They measured grip strength in 142,861 people, ages 35-70, in 17 countries who were willing to be followed prospectively for longevity, mortality, cause of death, injuries, falls, fractures, hospitalizations, the works.   They used a very simple and reproducible measurement with the Jamar Dynamometer to measure grip strength. The study used data from rich, poor and in-between countries.   Canada, Sweden and the Emirates were considered rich.   Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe were poor and Colombia, South Africa, Poland and 7 others were considered in-between. They did find cultural differences. Apparently the Swedes take delight in squeezing hard, and Pakistani’s are very gentle but the prognostic value of the strength still pertained.   On average, a person’s grip strength is about 300 newtons.  

For every 50 newton drop in grip strength the participants showed a 17% increase in risk of dying, mostly from heart disease.   It also showed an association with stroke and heart attack.   The researchers corrected for age, education, alcohol and tobacco consumption. Now, grip strength did not predict hospitalization for pneumonia, or mortality from falls.   One would think falls would be correlated, as weakness would seem to be predictive of risk. 

 Now, this news has raised quite a ruckus on the Economist web site because there are cultural differences between societies. In South Asia, you greet a person respectfully with two hands in front of you – no touching. Shaking hands is a western thing. But the data still holds. My interpretation is that heart disease is strongly correlated with mitochondrial health. Your heart cells are 33% mitochondria by volume and their health is central to heart health.   

As you get fit, the number of mitochondria both increase and get healthier.   Regular muscle cells go from 200 mitochondria to 400 when you get “in shape”. And your fitness overall is transmitted in your handshake. As research gets down to the nitty-gritty of how fitness benefits us, we will get more details. The topic of taking care of your mitochondria will become the means of coalescing this body of knowledge. For now, you can rest comforted if you supplement yourself with a bit of CoQ10 to help protect your mitochondria, and get fit. This is where statins yield their havoc, they deplete CoQ10 dramatically. I don’t care if you aren’t skinny, I do want you to be fit. 

 WWW. What will work for me? Because I’m over 50, my CoQ10 is starting to fall. I take 100 mg a day. And I exercise. Mostly walking, but some running, and some gardening, some tree lopping, some mulching.   I need to find a means of getting sweaty more often so that I get a bit more fit. And I’m going to start measuring your hand strength in my office.   Come on down, crush my fingers.   

 Pop Quiz

  1. Grip strength is the best predictor of how long I will live? T or F                   Answer:  That’s it in a handshake
  1. Fitness all over probably correlates with strength of handshake. T or F               Answer: True
  1. Exercise increases the mitochondria in our cells. T or F                       Answer:   Exactly right. See where I’m leading you?
  1. Number of mitochondria means my cells can produce more energy and do their function better, aka, squeeze harder. T or F                       Answer:  Bingo
  1. The strength of my hand squeeze isn’t what’s making me live longer, it’s the fact that I’ve gotten fit all over, and that is just plain good for me. T or F                       Answer:  Bingo