It's always good to have a firm handshake in business settings but researchers have now found that how firm a hand grip is can also be used to assess health.

In a study published in the journal The Lancet, researchers from McMaster University's Population Health Research Institute and Hamilton Health Sciences showed that hand grip firmness is a better measure of health than blood pressure levels. This is because reduced strength in the muscles, which is measured by grip firmness, is consistently linked to illness, disability and early death.

"Doctors or other healthcare professionals can measure grip strength to identify patients with major illnesses such as heart failure or stroke who are particularly high risk of dying from their illness," said [pdf] Dr. Darryl Leong, assistant professor of medicine from McMaster's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and principal investigator for the study.

For the study, the researchers followed nearly 149,000 adults between the ages of 35 and 70 across 17 countries for more than four years, measuring the subjects' muscle strength through a handgrip dynamometer. The subjects were part of the Prospective Urban-Rural Epidemiology study being carried out by the institute.

According to results, for every decline in grip strength of five kilograms, there was a one-in-six increased risk for death regardless of cause. The same 17 percent higher risk of deaths found due to strokes or heart disease was also present where non-cardiovascular conditions are involved.

However, while grip strength has been associated with how healthy an individual could be, the results of the study did not take into account differences due to age, sex, employment status, education level, physical activity, alcohol and tobacco use, diet, waist-to-hip ratios, body mass indexes and other health conditions like heart failure, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, cancer, hypertension and diabetes. Influences that could have been brought about by a country's level of wealth were also not factored in.

Healthy grip firmness is affected by an individual's weight and size and that appeared to vary in the study depending on ethnicity. Researchers understand that further analysis will be needed to identify exact measures for healthy grip strength, which can be applied to people from varying countries. Aside from more research, Leong also added that it is important to establish if efforts to boost muscle strength will have an effect on an individual's overall strength, reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and death.

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