Grip strength can be a predictor of healthy aging: Study
Grip strength is closely linked to mortality in people of all incomes, and may be a better indicator of life expectancy than blood pressure, research shows.
A recent study of 1,275 men and women found that those with relatively feeble handgrip strength, a reliable marker of overall muscle quality and strength, showed signs of accelerated aging of their DNA.
Their genes appeared to be growing old faster than those of people with greater strength.
The study, although preliminary, raises the possibility that visiting the gym or doing a few push-ups in our living rooms might help turn back the clock and make our cells and selves more biologically youthful, whatever our current age.
Why grip strength matters
A wealth of research already tells us that strength is good for us. People who lift weights are substantially less likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure and many other chronic illnesses than those who skip resistance exercise.
Strength also can be an augury of how long we’ll live. In a 2015 study of almost 140,000 adults in high-, middle- and low-income nations, reduced handgrip strength was closely linked to mortality in people of all incomes, predicting risks for early death better than blood pressure, which is often considered one of the best indicators of life span.
“Grip strength is a simple but powerful predictor of future disability, morbidity, and mortality,” the authors of an accompanying editorial concluded, its effects holding true “not only in older people, but also in middle-aged and young people.”
How, though, might a sturdy grip today influence our well-being tomorrow?
“Grip strength is often called a biomarker of aging,” said Mark Peterson, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led the new study. “But the biological context for why it’s so predictive of positive and negative outcomes during aging hasn’t really been clear.”
Maybe, Dr. Peterson and his colleagues speculated, epigenetics might be key.
What is your epigenetic age?
Epigenetics involves changes to the numbers and actions of certain tiny molecules that attach like mollusks to the outer surface of a gene and affect how and when that gene turns on. Epigenetic changes occur in response to our diets, exercise habits and many other aspects of our lives, and affect our DNA and health.
Epigenetics also may signal how rapidly we are aging, recent science shows.
About a decade ago, researchers began analyzing huge data sets of people’s epigenomes, which are the epigenetic changes unique to each of us, and using that data to develop what are called “epigenetic clocks” that estimate our biological age.
Chronological age is, of course, how old we are, according to our birth certificates. Biological age indicates the functional age and health of our cells and bodies. The two numbers can differ substantially.
Epigenetic clocks use algorithms to assess biological age, based on the various patterns of molecules on genes. If the clock suggests your biological age exceeds your chronological one, you’re aging faster than normal and, to be blunt, approaching frailty and death at a speedier clip than someone whose biological age is lower.
The Washington Post