Grip strength linked to mental disorders

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Mental disorders such as anxiety and depression can increase physical health risks and are a leading cause of disability. Globally, depression and anxiety are the first and sixth leading causes of disability respectively.

Your risk of developing mental disorders such as anxiety and depression is associated with a number of physical markers. A study conducted by BMC Medicine researched the association between poor grip strength, cardiorespiratory fitness and these mental disorders.

Cardiorespiratory fitness is the component of fitness relating to the circulation of oxygen around the body during physical activity. The importance of this type of fitness is well known and promoted, while few people understand the role of grip strength in their physical health and daily lives. People often associate grip strength with weightlifters or rock climbers, but in reality we all use grip strength to perform daily tasks such as opening jars or carrying shopping bags. Grip strength measures how firmly you can hold onto things, and how much weight you can carry with your grip.

The study used data from the UK Biobank, a prospective cohort study on 502,682 adults aged between 40 and 69. It observed individual and combined associations between grip strength and cardiorespiratory fitness with anxiety and depression.

The study found that people who had low and medium grip strength had a 1.381 and 1.116 higher chance of experiencing depression and anxiety.

People with low and medium cardiorespiratory fitness were also found to have 1.485 and 1.141 higher odds of experiencing these mental disorders.

Those participants who scored in the lowest group for both grip strength and cardiorespiratory fitness had a 1.981 higher risk of experiencing either anxiety or depression.

YourLifeChoices writes frequently about the important role physical exercise plays in maintaining good mental health. Even one hour of light exercise a week can help to boost your mood and keep mental disorders such as depression at bay.

Many studies have researched this correlation, and many health experts promote these findings. The correlation between grip strength and mental disorders, however, is relatively under-researched.

The study concluded that physical fitness could be an “objectively measurable indicator and modifiable risk factor” for mental health problems. The authors of the study wrote: “This finding highlights the importance of focusing on multiple components of fitness and their associations with mental health.”

In conclusion, the study suggested that “public health strategies to reduce common mental disorders could include combinations of aerobic and resistance activities”.

It is just as important to improve your grip strength as it is to exercise larger muscle groups. There are three key types of grip strength, crush, support and pinch. Crush measures how strong your grip is when using your fingers and palm. Support measures how long you can hang from something or hold something using your grip strength. Pinch measures how tightly you can pinch something between your fingers and your thumb.

A number of simple exercises can be performed at home and can help you to improve your grip strength.

Put a stress ball or a tennis ball in the palm of your hand and squeeze it as tightly as you can using your fingers and your thumb before releasing. To see noticeable results, recommends repeating this between 50 and 100 times daily.

Wringing a towel
Wring a wet towel, gripping it at each end in your hands and turning them in opposite directions until you can’t get any more water out of it. Repeat this three times.

Dumbbell carry
Hold a dumbbell in each hand. With your palms faced towards your body walk 50m in one direction carrying the weights, then walk back to the starting point. Repeat this three times to see results.

Have you noticed your grip strength weakening with age? What do you do to maintain your grip strength? Did you know that there is a correlation between grip strength and mental disorders?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.


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Written by Liv Gardiner


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