We've all battled with a jar lid that just won't budge. Maybe we tried banging it on the counter or holding it under hot water, and if all else failed, we probably asked someone for help. When they opened it on the first try, we joked that we loosened it for them.
Over the years, it might start to feel like these stubborn lids are getting stronger — and more common — but for many people, the problem is that their hands and bodies are simply getting weaker.
Could the status of your health lie in the palm of your hand? It may not be as simple as that – but your hand grip strength, a key way to determine your overall muscle strength, can tell you a lot.
"Muscle loss is the aging factor that's rarely discussed and people accept its signs, such as a weaker hand grip, as a natural part of aging," explains Suzette Pereira, Ph.D., a researcher specializing in muscle health with Abbott. "But muscle health can often tell us how we are going to age, and stay active and independent."
Muscle Mass and Your Health
Starting at age 40, adults can lose up to 8 percent of their muscle mass per decade. After 70 years old, that rate may double.
According to research in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, 50 percent of adults over the age of 80 have advanced muscle loss, known by the medical community as sarcopenia. Pereira explains that muscle loss can impact our energy levels and mobility, increase risk for falls and fractures, and even slow recovery from illness or surgery.
The good news is that grip strength is an easy way to assess your overall muscular strength. In 2015, The Lancet published research and found that grip strength is more accurate than blood pressure in forecasting fatal heart disease, and a 2017 Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care study concluded that muscle mass is a far better predictor of health than body mass index.
The Science of Grip Strength
Why is measurement so important? Sarcopenia is regarded as an invisible health condition — unless you test your grip strength, you may not know if you're experiencing a loss of muscle with age.
So how do you test your grip strength? Some healthcare facilities may have grip meters, but it can be as simple as opening a jar, squeezing an orange or noticing the firmness of your handshake. If you detect a difference in your strength it may be time to do something.
Rebuilding Muscle and Strength
The good news is that it's never too late to regain muscle and strength. Pereira says it can be achieved through a combination of strength exercises and a complete, balanced diet with sufficient protein.
Current dietary recommendations suggest that adults eat 0.36 grams of protein per day for every pound they weigh. That's about 56 grams for men and 46 for women. But some experts recommend getting almost twice that amount as you age1, especially if you're recovering from surgery, battling an illness or are malnourished. Aim to eat protein from a wide variety of foods, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, tofu and beans.
Other key nutrients can help support aging muscles. The NOURISH study* — one of the largest clinical nutrition studies of its kind — found that older adults hospitalized for a heart or lung condition who received a complete and balanced nutrition Ensure® supplement, which had 20 grams protein, and HMB, or beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, an ingredient that supports muscle health, twice a day for 90 days post discharge saw improvements in hand grip strength.**
Muscle plays an important role in many aspects of life, and there are plenty of effective ways to test and improve your strength. Talk to your doctor about healthy options for preserving muscle mass.
*In a clinical trial with over 600 undernourished people with heart or lung disease age 65 or older, using Ensure Enlive twice daily versus a placebo control significantly improved nutritional status, body weight, and vitamin D levels over standard diet within 90 days of hospital discharge.
**Handgrip strength was measured in a post hoc analysis of more than 600 malnourished people with heart or lung diseases, age 65 or older. The specialized nutrition supplement was consumed twice daily for 90 days after hospital discharge.
 Kim I, et al. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2014;308:21-28.
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