Simple tasks, like opening a jar or carrying a bag, become tricky when you can’t hold items with a firm, tight grip. You may chalk it up to age and accept that you’re getting older. However, your handgrip strength can serve as an indicator for other serious health conditions, including dementia.
To learn more about the connection between handgrip strength and brain health, I spoke with Betsy Mills, PhD, Assistant Director of the Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention team at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF).
Why is handgrip strength important?
As Dr. Mills tells Woman’s Worldprevious observational studies have shown that overall handgrip strength is a marker of brain health in older adults.
One common finding among researchers? Weak handgrip strength correlates with poor performance on cognitive function tests. Mills also mentions that reduced grip strength is linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
“In these studies, handgrip strength is used as a surrogate marker, meaning: It is not directly connected to cognitive function itself, but is closely associated with another factor that is related to cognitive function,” she explains.
Mills notes that this additional factor is frailty (a way to measure how vulnerable a person’s body is to stressors such as falling or getting sick).
People who recover quickly from these kinds of stressors are considered highly resilient. In contrast, someone who is frail may never recover or decline even further.
“Weak handgrip strength is one of the most common physical characteristics of frailty,” Mills adds. Other signs of frailty include a slow walking speed and exhaustion from low levels of physical activity.
The bottom line? A symptom of frailty — like decreased handgrip strength — may indicate a decline in your brain health.
How can I improve my grip strength?
If you think you have a health complication like poor grip strength, speak with your doctor to receive the best medical advice. “The good news is that frailty is largely preventable and at least partially reversible,” Mills reassures.
Here are three things she encourages women over 50 to remember when avoiding frailty:
- Exercising. It’s the best way to prevent frailty! Physical activity keeps your muscles and bones strong, which help protect you against falls and other injuries. Exercise also prevents problems caused by age and unhealthy diet. As a result, it boosts the resilience of the brain and the body.
- Vary your workout routine. While some of us love our routines, studies suggest that workouts with a variety of moves are your best bet if you want to avoid frailty. Exercises that include aerobic conditioning, resistance training, and balance work may be most effective.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Poor eating habits act as stressors, which can worsen symptoms of frailty. Also, metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes can contribute to symptoms. So, Mills recommends avoiding high fat and sugary foods, which may offset the resiliency benefits of physical activity.
Being mindful about changes in your body should always be a priority. Hopefully, these easy tips will help you improve your handgrip strength to prevent frailty and cognitive decline sooner rather than later!