For adults aged 20-29, the average grip strength is 46 kilograms for men and 29 kilograms for women. By the time they reach age 60-69, average grip strength decreases to 39 kilograms for men and 23.5 kilograms for women.
It is common for grip strength to decrease with time. That does not mean it is healthy, though.
Read on to learn more about the importance of developing and maintaining a strong grip, especially as you get older. You will also find some tips on how to improve your grip strength now and in the future.
A strong grip is not just about being able to lift heavy weights or carry grocery bags without getting tired. Many people are surprised to learn that grip strength is associated with a variety of health conditions, including the following:
There is a strong connection between grip strength and a person’s risk of heart failure.
When someone’s grip strength is lower than average (compared to those of the same age and gender), research shows that they are more likely to experience detrimental changes in their heart structure and function.
Furthermore, research has also shown that people who have a weak grip are more likely to be admitted to the hospital because of heart failure and experience cardiac death. They are more likely to die from any cause, too.
A person’s grip strength can play a role in predicting their likelihood of surviving cancer. Of course, many other factors determine a person’s chances of survival, but grip strength is still relevant.
One study published in 2020, for example, looked at 936 patients and found that those who had greater grip strength were more likely to survive non-small-cell lung cancer than those who had a weaker grip.
Another study discovered a 5-kilogram grip strength reduction in men who had been diagnosed with colorectal, prostate or lung cancer and women who had been diagnosed with breast or lung cancer. The decreased grip strength was also correlated with an increased likelihood of death in men with colorectal cancer and women with breast cancer.
Diabetes and Obesity
There are also links between grip strength, diabetes and obesity.
These connections likely have to do with the fact that people with obesity and/or diabetes often have lower levels of muscle mass and higher levels of body fat. This, in turn, can lead to weakness throughout the body, including the muscles responsible for a strong grip.
Why Does Grip Strength Decrease with Age?
Generally speaking, grip strength tends to decline with age. Most people experience peak grip strength in their twenties, and it gradually drops off as they get older.
There are quite a few possible explanations for the declines in grip strength that come with age, but these are some of the most frequently cited:
Increased Muscle Loss
As they get older, it is common for people to lose muscle mass. Women, in particular, tend to lose muscle rapidly as they age and go through menopause.
Some muscle loss is to be expected as people age. However, they often hasten the process by failing to engage in regular strength training exercises.
Strength training slows down muscle loss and makes it easier for people to maintain higher levels of strength as they age. Unfortunately, a lot of people do less of this as they get older, which increases their chances of dealing with decreased grip strength (and decreased strength overall).
More Frequent Illness and Fatigue
With age often comes more frequent illness and more fatigue. If you find that you are getting sick more frequently or feel tired more often than not, there is a good chance you are not going to be engaging in activities that are conducive to a strong grip, such as lifting weights.
Illness, in particular, can impact grip strength and make it harder for you to carry out activities you once performed with ease. This is particularly true of chronic illnesses like diabetes or heart disease, which (as you now know) are also correlated with a weaker grip.
Decreased Protein Consumption
Many people find that their appetite decreases as they get older. In particular, they lose their appetite for protein-rich foods like meat, fish and poultry.
Low protein consumption is linked to decreased muscle mass and, in turn, decreased muscle strength. This information is particularly important for older adults because they are less responsive to the anabolic (muscle-building) stimulus that amino acids (the building blocks of protein) provide.
How Is Grip Strength Tested?
In most cases, grip strength is tested with the help of a tool known as a dynamometer.
During the diagnostic process, a person will grasp the dynamometer similar to the way they would hold a glass (the elbow is tucked into their side and positioned at a right angle). Then, they squeeze it 3 times, holding each time for about 5 seconds, in each hand. The average of each squeeze is taken, and that is the person’s final score is determined based on that number.
Signs Your Grip Strength Has Decreased
Most people are not in the habit of regularly testing their grip strength. As such, they might not even realize that their strength is declining until it hits a significant low.
If you cannot get your hands on a dynamometer right away, you can still get a sense of whether or not your grip strength is declining based on the following signs:
Do you find that your hands, wrists, and forearms get tired faster than they once did? Do your muscles feel fatigued when you do everyday activities like carrying groceries into the house or unscrewing the lid from a jar?
A lack of grip strength can make these activities much harder than they used to be.
Frequently Dropping Objects
Do you find yourself constantly dropping things, even when they are not slippery or hard to hold? Are you replacing things more often than usual?
If you are having a hard time holding onto things, it might be because your grip strength is decreasing with age.
Are you experiencing more pain in your hands or wrists than you once did? Are you experiencing pain in these areas for the first time? Either way, diminishing grip strength and muscle loss could be the culprits.
Tips for Improving Grip Strength
Improving grip strength does not just make it easier for you to carry heavy objects. It also can have a positive impact on your overall wellness and can help you establish healthy habits like consistent exercising or increased protein intake.
If you are not happy with your grip strength as it stands, here are some tips and exercises that can help you improve it:
Do Grip Exercises
One of the best things you can do to improve your grip strength is to do grip exercises regularly.
If you make it a priority to use the muscles in your hands, wrists and forearms, you will be less likely to lose additional muscle mass. You may even be able to build back some of the muscle you have lost over time.
Build Strength Training into Your Routine
Look for ways to incorporate grip strength training into your daily routine, too.
For example, when you lift a bottle of water to take a drink, you can add in a couple of extra lifts to help strengthen your wrist. You can also wring out a wet cloth to gently (but effectively) stimulate the grip muscles and keep them mobile.
Increase Protein Consumption
Make sure you are eating an adequate amount of protein each day. This will help to support your existing muscle mass and prevent muscle wasting. It will set you up to gain more muscle in the future, too.
Experts recommend consuming between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For example, if someone weighed 180 pounds, they would aim to consume between 98 and 163 grams of protein per day.
Work with a Physical Therapist
To see significant improvements to your grip strength, it is best to work with a physical therapist. A physical therapist can assess your current grip strength. They will then work with you to devise a plan that will help you to increase it over time.
Physical therapists can also help you to stay safe while you are working on improving your grip strength so you do not accidentally injure yourself and slow down your progress.
Has your grip strength decreased with age? Now that you know more about the importance of working on your grip strength as you get older, it is time to start taking it seriously.
At AmeriCare Physical Therapy, we can help you manage that pain with our extensive services. Book an appointment with us today.