Get strong, live better and longer

Muscular strength, as determined by grip strength, has been shown to be an important indicator for health, morbidity and mortality in older groups. Grip strength is considered a clinical biomarker in testing if a person is strong. This is because it is cheap, very reliable and a good indicator that the person is generally strong. There’s a huge body of research that has investigated this over the years, and more recently there has been an excellent study by Watson et al in Australia that has shown ways to combat these changes.

image of a mans fist gripped

Strength to maintain our muscles

By the time we hit 50 years of age, normal atrophic changes start to occur in our muscles. The word for this natural ‘wear and tear’ is sarcopenia. Thankfully, it is possible to slow these changes down by adding resistance training to your weekly routine. We need to place enough load on our muscles, safely, to stimulate our body to keep growing, to repair and maintain strength.

strong woman holding barbell on her shoulders

Strength to protect us from fractures

Osteoporosis is the loss of bone density. The Royal Osteoporosis Society states that in the UK one in two women, and one in five men, will experience a fracture caused by osteoporosis in their lifetime after the age of 50. These are huge numbers. Sadly, the rate of survival after 5 years post hip or spinal fracture in an older person is low. We need to do, and can do, something about it.

Strength to protect us from all diseases

Reduced muscular strength is associated with all-cause, including cardiovasular, mortality. A study by Leong et al, found that measuring grip strength was a stronger indicator of cardiovascualar health than measuring systolic blood pressure. Another study by Peterson et al, looked at changes in the DNA and found that the ageing process is accelerated in those with reduced grip strength. They used the term ‘inflammaging’, a word I’d not heard before. It relates to inflammatory markers and increased oxidative stress in our body that increases our ageing process. Exercise and a healthy diet slow this down.

So, it’s very important to maintain your strength as you get older as decline of both muscle and bone starts when we are relatively young; when head into our 50’s.

Strong woman flexing her bicep with comical look on her face

It’s all linked

  • Reduced muscular strength is associated with the risk of falling
  • The risk of fracture is associated with falling in those with low bone mineral density (BMD)
  • Low muscular strength is associated with low BMD
  • Low grip (i.e. general strength) is associated with disease

So it makes sense then, that:

Maintaining and improving strength helps to prevent and protect you from falling and therefore from fracture. Muscular strength appears to protect us from all-causes of death including cardiovasular illness and reduces the risk of cognitive decline (i.e. Alzeimers Disease).

Research paving the new way

It’s not all doom and gloom. A recent high quality study in Australia by Watson et al, took a group of people with low and very low BMD and split them into two groups.

Group 1 had 8 months of conservative exercise therapy. They performed low intensity* exercises: body weight sit-to stand squats, calf raises, walking, stretching and up to 3kg of weighted exercises – a pretty standard group of moves advised for people with osteoporosis.

Group 2 were given 8 months of high intensity* resistance exercise, under supervision. This involved loaded, compound, exercises like dead lifts, squats, shoulder press and jump-landings. Each group spent 30 mins twice a week doing their workouts. Bone density, muscular strength, height, body mass and functional movement tests were compared.

The results

Group 1 did not record any change in their variables, but Group 2 did – and very significantly too. Not only did they gain height, gain bone density (some of them by 8%!) and gain strength but very importantly they did not sustain any injury. They were not as fragile as previously thought and they thrived.

This study, I feel, is so important. It has shown that we can load ourselves, safely, to slow down and reverse the changes that occur with ageing. We can protect ourself from injury and disease by lifting, pushing and pulling heavy things.

Watch this video below to see for yourself the results.

NB: They are not advising that older people simply go ahead a lift heavy things. All participants had a month of technique preparations to complete before they started the study. It was a highly controlled environment where technique was supervised.

On the back of this study I have bought kit to help you all get stronger, safely. Contact me to book in and get strong!

Another wee note:

1 RM = Repetition Max

*Low Intensity = <60% 1RM 10-15reps

*High Intensity = >80-85% 1RM 5 sets of 5 reps

E.g 80% 1RM = Your 80% of effort to lift something heavy repeatedly, in this recent research they performed this 5 times for 5 sets.

References:

Orthopaedic Surgery

Low Grip Strength is a Strong Risk Factor of Osteoporosis in Postmenopausal Women

Yi-zhong Li MD, Hua-feng Zhuang MD, Si-qing Cai MD, Chang-kun Lin MD, Pei-wen Wang MD, Li-sheng Yan MD, Jin-kuang Lin MD, Hai-ming Yu MD

First published: 12 February 2018

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/os.12360

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https://theros.org.uk/

https://theros.org.uk/healthcare-professionals/epidemiology-of-osteoporotic-fracture-an-overview/#:~:text=In%20the%20UK%20it%20is,morbidities%2C%20sex%20and%20fracture%20site.

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The Lancet

Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study

Dr Darryl P Leong, PhD, Prof Koon K Teo, PhD, Sumathy Rangarajan, MSc, Prof Patricio Lopez-Jaramillo, PhD, Alvaro Avezum Jr, MD, Andres Orlandini, MD et al.

Published:May 13, 2015

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)62000-6/fulltext

Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle

Grip strength is inversely associated with DNA methylation age acceleration

Mark D. Peterson, Stacey Collins, Helen C.S. Meier, Alexander Brahmsteadt, Jessica D. Faul

First published: 09 November 2022

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jcsm.13110

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Clinical Interventions in Ageing

Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults

Richard W Bohannon, 2019

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6778477/