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Grip strength: why you need it and how to improve it

anti stress ball

While you may be successfully getting your cardio and strength-training workouts in each week, have you put much thought into improving your grip strength lately? As you age, grip strength can be one of the first things affected. Joint wear and tear, muscle loss, and less grip-focused physical activity in general can result in a diminished ability to grip, grasp, pinch, and squeeze things with your hands.

Is grip strength really a big deal? Absolutely. And it goes beyond simply aiding your ability to open jars and carry groceries.

A 2018 study published in The BMJ  looked at over half a million UK residents between the ages of 40 and 69. What they found was that those participants with higher grip strength had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and certain types of cancer including lung, breast, and colorectal cancer. Hand grip strength has also been shown to predict functionality limitations and disability that may occur later in life.

Types of grip strength

Grip strength has proven to be a good measure for both upper body as well as overall body strength because it relies on a variety of muscles and other soft tissues in your forearm, wrist, hand, and even in part, your shoulder. The types of grip strength can be categorized into the following groups:

Support grip – holding a heavy object for an extended period of time, like luggage or groceries, requires your support grip. The ability to maintain a solid hold on something plays a critical role in day to day functioning.

Pinch grip – the tension you generate between your thumb and fingers is called your pinch grip; think opening jars, turning door knobs, carrying a plate, or holding a pencil.

Crush grip – the force that results when you squeeze something between your fingers and palm, like a stress ball, is called your crush grip and it comes into play when you take actions like shaking hands or pulling your clothes on in the morning.

anti stress ball 10 easy habits to improve grip strength

You don’t necessarily have to hit the weight room to enhance your grip strength. Making small changes to regular habits can help you exercise your arms and hands and optimize your grip strength as well. Try to:

  • Wash your car by hand instead of going to a car wash
  • Use a push lawn mower instead of a riding lawn mower

  • Use trekking poles when walking or hiking

  • Rake your leaves instead of using a leaf blower

  • Carry groceries instead of driving up to the store or having them delivered

  • Squeeze a stress ball or grip-strengthening tool when you watch TV

  • Ring your wet clothes out by hand prior to drying them

  • Wrap a rubber band around your hand and practice repeatedly opening and closing  your fingers

  • Manually enter your garage through the door instead of using your electrical clicker

  • Practice hanging from a pull-up bar at the gym

Grip strength and medical conditions

A variety of medical conditions can affect your grip strength including arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist sprains, and rotator cuff injuries. Progressive diseases that affect motor function, like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, may also diminish grip strength over time.

Inversely, however, exercises that enhance flexibility and strength in your forearm may help combat loss of function if you experience these types of conditions. Grip strength can also play a critical role in physical and occupation therapy if you ever find yourself recovering from a stroke or brain injury.

Your ability to hold an object, whether it’s your mobility aid, toothbrush, keys, or phone, could be the ultimate indicator of your independence and ability to care for yourself as you get older. If it’s not on your health and wellness checklist, talk to your doctor or trainer about adding grip strength today!