Hand-grip strength is more important than you think. Improve your grip with these quick and easy exercises.
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Hand-grip strength is about more than opening pickle jars with ease. It's also about your longevity and quality of life. Research has linked low grip strength to an increased risk for cognitive impairment, fractures, falls, depression, sleep problems, type 2 diabetes and premature death. One long-term study published in the Lancet even found grip strength to be a better predictor of the odds of dying from cardiovascular disease—or from any cause—than blood pressure. Why? Grip strength is a reliable marker of overall muscle mass, which is critical to the function of every system in your body, explains lead author Darryl P. Leong, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., Ph.D.

hand grips
Credit: Getty Images/Yasser Chalid

Muscle size and strength tend to decline as you age, starting as early as your 30s. But doing resistance exercises that work your body's major muscle groups can prevent or help reverse that loss. Plus, the more weight you're able to hold onto and lift, the more muscle mass you'll be able to build, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., senior clinical professor of sport science and physical education at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. Three exercises she recommends:

Farmer's Carry

Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and a pair of dumbbells on the floor by the outsides of your feet.Squat down and, keeping your back flat and abs pulled in tight, grab a weight in each hand and stand up, arms by your sides, palms facing your thighs. From here, walk forward until your hands feel like they're just about to give out, then lower the weights to the floor. Work up to three reps.

Dead Lift

Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and a pair of dumbbells by your toes, perpendicular to your body. Push your butt and hips back and bend forward at the waist, keeping your back flat and abs pulled in tight, knees just slightly bent. Pick up the weights, palms facing the front of your thighs, arms straight, and push through your heels to stand back up (keep your arms long and close to the front of your thighs). Slowly reverse the motion and lower the weights to the floor. Work up to three sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Hollow-Body Hang

Grab a sturdy overhead bar with an overhand grip, thumbs wrapped under the bar, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull your shoulder blades down and back and raise your feet off the floor so your body forms an elongated C shape. Hold as long as possible, keeping your arms and core engaged. Work up to four 30-second holds.

What about hand-grip tools?

IronMind Captains of Crush Hand Gripper
$25.95
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Amazon

Isolating your hand grip with squeeze balls and other trainers won't directly protect you from chronic disease, says Olson. But focusing in on grip with a special tool can get you more results from moves like carries, dead lifts and hangs that will help improve your overall muscle mass and health. Try doing three sets of 10 reps with a hand-grip trainer—we like the IronMind Captains of Crush Grippers ($26, Amazon.com)—at the beginning of every workout.

EatingWell, March 2021