The Grapevine

Can Children's Poor Health Be Predicted By Their Hand Grip Strength?

When it comes to young health, the significance of a nutritious diet and aerobic activity are often highlighted. But new findings show why improving and maintaining muscular strength is also important during this age.

The paper titled "Grip Strength is Associated with Longitudinal Health Maintenance and Improvement in Adolescents" was published in the Journal of Pediatrics on Aug. 13.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Baylor University, the University of Michigan and the University of New England.

"This study gives multiple snapshots over time that provide more insight about grip strength and future risks for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease," said senior author Dr. Paul M. Gordon, professor and chair of health, human performance and recreation in the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor.

"Low grip strength could be used to predict cardiometabolic risk and to identify adolescents who would benefit from lifestyle changes to improve muscular fitness."

The term cardiometabolic risk refers to the likelihood of developing diabetes, heart disease or stroke. Testing grip strength has been known to help in assessing heart health and being an indicator for all-cause death in individuals.

Students were assessed once during the fourth-grade year and once at the end of the fifth grade. Using an instrument called a handgrip dynamometer, the research team measured the grip strength of the students in their dominant and non-dominant hands.

"Testing grip strength is simple, non-invasive and can easily be done in a health care professional's office. It has value for adults and children," Gordan added.

After the initial test, approximately 28 percent of the boys and 20 percent of the girls were classified as having weak grip strength. Over the study period, these students were more than three times as likely to maintain poor health or experience declining health compared to those who had a strong grip strength.

In another observation, students who initially measured a strong grip did not see a significant improvement in health if they developed an even stronger grip over the study period. According to Gordan, this suggested that having weak grip strength was what appeared to put the children at risk. 

"Even after taking into account other factors like cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity, and lean body mass, we continue to see an independent association between grip strength and both cardiometabolic health maintenance and health improvements," he said.

This year, a report by Public Health England revealed that strength exercises are often ignored as many believe that aerobic activities like walking are enough to maintain fitness.

Recommended activities to improve muscular strength include cycling, dancing, training with weights, exercises like push-ups and sit-ups, etc. Generally, two or more sessions of strength exercises should be performed on a weekly basis.