Get a Grip!

Did you know that your hand grip strength is an indicator of future disability? Flipping through a journal of gerontology, I found an article describing an interesting experiment. Many studies show that how a person thinks or feels about age actually impacts their health. This study was unusual in that it had mostly female participants. And the results were encouraging.

The researchers wanted to see if an older adult would show better physical functioning if they thought that they were in better shape than their peers. The experiment measured their hand grip strength.

How long you can hold and with how much force you can squeeze a grip device measures your hand grip strength. That indicates overall muscle strength and has been found to be a reliable indicator of physical fitness levels. It also can help identify who is at higher risk of declining health and early death.

Two groups of participants between 52 and 91 were asked questions, including how old they felt, and were informed of what grip strength indicated. Then they had their grip strength measured but were not told the actual test results. Instead, one group was told that their performance was better than 80% of people the same age. After that, both groups completed another questionnaire and were given the grip test again.

What happened? Those who were told that their first grip strength test indicated that they were above 80% of their peers reported feeling younger in the second questionnaire. That feedback, although it was not true, also resulted in them demonstrating significantly greater grip strength in the second test.

What does that mean? When they thought they were stronger than other people their age, participants had a younger subjective age. They felt younger. In addition, they performed better on the strength test.

What you think and believe matters. These people might have just as easily been made to think that their strength test results were in the bottom 20% and that could have made them feel older, with poorer test results to follow. Either way, our thoughts and beliefs set us up for self-fulfilling prophecies.

Bottom line? What you think has a meaningful impact on how old you feel and your functioning level as you age. If you think you can’t, you probably can’t. If you think you can, you probably can. It pays to look for positive, affirming information that motivates you to live your best life.

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