Grip Strength and Healthy Kids

Hand squeezing a stress ball
Is grip strength in children an indicator of the future of their health?

A number of studies have shown that grip strength is an indicator of overall muscle strength. Studies have also shown that those with weaker grip strengths can expect worse health and wellness outcomes than those with stronger grips. Poorer cardiovascular health, metabolic diseases, disability and even early death apparently all await the weak of grip, according to studies.

Now a study has been done which links weak grip in children to worse health and wellness outcomes. Done over 2 years, the Baylor University (in conjunction with Univ. of Michigan and Univ. of New England) study followed 368 adolescent children.

The study took into account pre-existing risk factors such as excess body fat, elevated resting glucose, high blood pressure, elevated serum triglycerides and low high-density lipoproteins (HDL cholesterol.) They accounted for students’ family history and activity levels as well. The students grip was tested and normalized for variable body mass.

Initially, 27.9% of boys and 20.1% of girls had grip strength below what was considered normal.

The study then tracked the students over 2 years to observe health outcomes. Their results were very clear.

Students with weak grip strength exhibited poor and/or declining health outcomes at a rate of nearly 4 to 1 among boys and 2 1/2 to 1 among girls. Students with strong grips saw their health outcomes maintained at baseline or improved 95% of the time.

The study’s authors see the results as an indicator for something I’ve believed, along with just about every other fitness, strength and performance training professional I know, for quite some time: adolescent children need activities that strengthen their muscle and improve power output.

While the emphasis in youth fitness and children’s health has largely been on the benefits of good nutrition and aerobic activity, this study helps to verify what so many of us in the fitness and wellness fields already believed.

Paul M. Gordon, the Chair of the Health, Human Performance and Recreation Department at Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences, said “This study gives multiple snapshots over time that provide more insight about grip strength and future risks for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” he said. “Low grip strength could be used to predict cardiometabolic risk and to identify adolescents who would benefit from lifestyle changes to improve muscular fitness.”

Interestingly, improving an already strong grip didn’t significantly improve health outcomes. Weak grip, however, was a predictor for negative outcomes. No evidence was made available regarding those with weak starting grips who improved them over time.

Dr. Gordon also said “What we know about today’s kids is that because of the prevalence of obesity, they are more at risk for developing pre-diabetes and cardivascular diseases than previous generations.”

The realities of the obesity epidemic in the US are painful and staggering. It’s estimated that 38% of all Americans are obese, with 70% overweight. Among kids, the obesity figure is at a sorrowful 19% and climbing. Another 20% are considered overweight.

The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily, with at least 3 “vigorous days” each week. However, according to the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance, less than 25% of American children are meeting those criteria.

Given the scope of the challenge, Dr. Gordon’s thought make sense: “Given that grip strength is a simple indicator for all-cause death, cardiovascular death and cardiovascular disease in adults, future research is certainly warranted to better understand how weakness during childhood tracks into and throughout adulthood,” he said. “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.”

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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