Firm handshake link to long life

The strength of your handshake could be a clue to how long you'll live, say scientists from University College London. They matched older people's balance, grip strength and ability to get up from a chair with their risk of an earlier death.

Those who did best were likely to live longer, the British Medical Journal reported. It is hoped such simple tests might help doctors spot "at-risk" patients. The study, carried out at the Medical Research Council-funded Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, combined the results of more than 30 earlier research projects, involving tens of thousands of people which looked at "physical capability" and mortality.

The people involved were mostly over the age of 60, but living in the community rather than hospitals or care homes. The researchers found that death rates over the period of the studies were 67% higher in people with the weakest grip strength compared with the strongest.

A similar pattern was found in the other measures, with the slowest walkers almost three times more likely to die compared with the fastest. Those slowest to rise from a chair had double the mortality rate compared with those quickest to their feet. Even being able to balance on one leg appeared to be linked with a reduced risk of death.

Although the frailty which comes with disease and overall declining health could explain much of the difference, in the case of hand grip strength the difference in death rates was noticeable even in some people under the age of 60 who outwardly showed few or no sign of poor health.

Professor Avan Aihie Sayer, a geriatrician and co-author on the study based at Southampton University, said that she was now pushing for wider use of measures such as grip strength in hospitals as a way of spotting patients with greater problems.

She said: "One recent piece of research carried out in a hospital setting found that differences in grip strength were even linked to the length of hospital stay, which is quite an important finding. "At the moment we're talking mainly about the frail elderly, but with time this could be relevant to younger people in terms of preventative medicine."

She said that some studies suggested it may be possible to identify significant differences in grip strength even in much younger people, pointing to future health problems. (BBC Health)

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