Handshakes could reveal risk of early death, disability and illness

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Based on how firm your handshake is, researchers can gauge whether you are at risk of an early death, disability or illness – a method researchers at Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences claim is better than blood pressure as a health meter.

Pegged as an inexpensive test, a person’s grip strength could help medical professionals assess their risk of death and cardiovascular disease said principal investigator Dr. Darryl Leong, an assistant professor of medicine of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and cardiologist for the hospital.

Measuring grip strength through handshakes could enable doctors or other healthcare professionals to identify patients with major illnesses such as heart failure or stoke who are at particularly high risk of dying from their illness, Dr Leong added.

Researchers have based their findings on a study that followed almost 140,000 adults aged 35 to 70 over four years in 17 countries, who were taking part in the institute’s Prospective Urban-Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. Researchers didn’t go about shaking hands with all the participants, but they measured their muscle strength using a handgrip dynamometer.

The researchers found that for every five kilogram decline in grip strength, there was a one in six increased risk of death from any cause. There was the same 17 per cent higher risk of death from either heart disease or stroke, or non-cardiovascular conditions.

These associations with grip strength were not accounted for by differences in age, sex, education level, employment status, physical activity, tobacco and alcohol use, diet, BMI, waist-to-hip ratio or other conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, coronary artery disease, COPD, stroke or heart failure, or their country’s wealth.

Healthy grip strength does depend on the individual’s size and weight, and in this study appeared to vary with ethnicity. Further analysis is needed to identify the cut-offs for healthy grip strength in people from different countries.

Leong added that more research is also needed to establish whether efforts to improve muscle strength are likely to reduce an individual’s risk of death and cardiovascular disease.

The research is published in the journal The Lancet.