Longevity and the strength of our handshaking

The many positive factors favoring (or the negative ones that deteriorate) our life expectancy may be condensed into three categories: genes, diet and lifestyle. We have very little control over the first group, our genetic ‘karma’, the most critical and influential of the three sets. The average age of our two parents at death is the best predictor of how long we might live. And sex (male or female, not frequency), gives to women a seven years advantage from the very moment of fertilization when we are only one cell. Nature, right there, discriminates us, men, and there is no interest group protesting. To whom shall we complain?

It is in the quality of our food and the style of our life where the possible opportunities to add calendars to our vital parable appear. In both areas, the number of published books, seminars and consultants that sell ‘eternal youth’ is outrageous and growing. And it is in the lifestyle area, which include “the strength of our handshaking” where this note fits.

Recent research has concluded that there is a strong relationship between the strength of people’s grip of and their expected remaining life: The weaker the grip, the higher the risk of dying soon, mainly from cardiovascular problems. The study was carried out by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, under the direction of Dr. Darryl P Leong.

Given the broad coverage of this work (140,000 people between 35 and 70 years, in seventeen countries), the reliability of this conclusion must be quite high. Researchers tracked each of the volunteers for about four years, recording deaths as they occurred and the associated causes.

The strength of the hand grips was obtained with portable devices, specially designed for the study, and the overall average of all measurements was equivalent to the force needed to hold a weight of thirty kilograms. In the analysis of the results, each reduction of five kilograms in the ‘weight’ represented a 17% increase in the risk of death close. (We write ‘kilograms’ for simplicity; ‘force’ is actually measured in ‘newtons’. Do you remember your physics lessons?)

​​​”Grip strength could be an easy and inexpensive test to assess an individual’s risk of death and cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Leong. And the magazine ‘The Economist’ magazine comments that “a flaccid handshake may be a warning that all is not well.”

Of course the formalities of encounters and farewells are just one of the many activities in which we apply hand grips. McMaster University’s study says that further research is needed to determine whether physical exercising to strengthen the muscles of the arm would increase life expectancy, as it happens when we improve eating habits, we start going to the gym five times a week, or we practice meditation daily. If such studies confirm that a strong fist and, consequently, a firm handshake indeed stretch our years on Earth, almost immediately hundreds of books, courses and speakers will appear, wanting to sell methods for “The Way of Greeting to Reach a Long Life.”

As hand shaking has no science behind and requires no measuring, while such things happen, we have nothing to lose in greeting with more energy, when we meet old acquaintances or we are introduced to new people, from today on. Perhaps this habit is not going to lengthen the years that our genes have already scheduled for us but, at least, those to whom we said goodbye with a firm handshake will not have the chance to taunt, behind our back, saying after we leave the group: “This weakling fool will not get to next year”.​

Atlanta, May 29, 2015


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