I remember that as I got older, my mom was asking more often for me to open jars and cans for her in the kitchen. She would always say that she had terrible grip strength, and it was difficult for her to do some of these types of tasks that had once not been a problem. I always felt like a hero when I was able to step in and take care of the problem. I also just resigned myself to the fact that the loss of strength in the hand was inevitable, and I never thought much about how the growing weakness in the hands as we age is also related to our overall health.
I also hadn’t given much thought to what could be done to slow or prevent the degeneration of strength and mobility in the hands. The good news is there are things that can be done to stabilize this progressive loss of strength and regain some of that strength in the hands.
As we age, the loss of strength happens slowly. This slow decline in strength makes it easy for the effects that having weak hands have on our health to go unnoticed. Your grip strength usually starts to drop in your 50s, and low grip strength can predict an increased risk of functional limitations and disability as you get older. Part of the reason for this is that feeble handgrip strength is a reliable marker of overall muscle quality and strength, not just strength.
Grip Strength Is An Indicator Of Life Span
Studies show that grip strength may be a better indicator of life span than blood pressure which has long been considered the most reliable and predictable indicator. There have been studies that show how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. The most interesting part of these studies is they found that, in general, the weaker someone’s grip strength was, the less youthful their DNA appeared compared to stronger people in the same age range.
The Cause Of Aging Hands
Our hands change both aesthetically and functionally as we age. The aesthetic changes can be a nuisance and leave you feeling less than your best. Some of the visual changes to our hands include:
- Age spots
- Dry & loose skin
- Stained and brittle nails
- Red, peeling skin
What’s more important than the aesthetic changes to our hands as we age is the changes in hand function. Some of the functional changes include:
- Decline in grip strength
- Decline in hand and finger strength
- Loss of ability to control pinch force
- Manual hand speed
- Loss of hand sensation (sensory changes)
The breakdown of hand function in elderly adults is a combination of structural changes to joints, muscles, tendons, and bones but also to nerve receptors and blood supply. Understanding that hand and grip strength is so important to long-term health, what can be done to improve strength, dexterity, and hand speed?
Improving Grip Strength
Older adults can do exercises to improve three types of grip strength: crushing, pinching, and supporting or holding. The key to maintaining and developing your grip is by both keeping active and using training accessories or exercises. Two of the simplest exercises for improving grip strength are:
- Ball squeezes
- Hand open/closes
Improving Hand Dexterity
Hand strength and dexterity have more benefits than just the development of fine motor skills. They also help build larger motor skills like standing up, pulling, pushing, and hand-eye coordination. Here are some easy things you can do to improve manual dexterity:
- Learn a musical instrument
- Make a fist
- Practice handwriting
- Sort small items
- Knitting and sewing
Improving Hand Speed & Coordination
Some of what controls hand speed are the effect that age has on your reflexes, and your reflexes control your reaction time. Obviously, slow reaction times can put you at risk when it comes to guarding yourself against any type of danger that comes at you quickly. The most common issue with balance and reaction time is the ability to react and guard or protect yourself from a fall.
Take A Boxing Class
Boxing workouts are a combination of bodyweight exercises, speed training, and muscle memory. Classes typically include following an instructor through a series of boxing moves. Boxing classes are a great way to not only stay fit at any age but also improve hand speed and coordination and sharpen your brain. Boxing is also a great exercise if you have previous injuries or joint or bone issues. You can always go at your own pace and have the option of your boxing class being low impact or no impact.
Boxing isn’t just about the upper body, hands, arms, and shoulders, it will have you working on and training your entire body. Throwing punches, even when they’re small, starts with the feet, and power is driven through your entire body. This will help with total body stability and increase the likelihood that you will prevent future injury.
Strong Hands Prolonging Your Life
The aging process can have us thinking about much bigger aches and pains, larger muscle groups, and “bigger” problems. However, the importance of our hands is undeniable in correlation to our long-term health. It’s just as important that we routinely perform exercises and resistance training on our hands and fingers as it is with our bodies from head to toe.