Get a grip to prevent ‘digital dementia’

Have you ever shaken someone’s hand and it felt like a limp noodle? You know the feeling. We’ve all experienced that from time to time. Have you ever wondered what it means?

Wayne and our son Adam shake hands
Wayne and our son Adam shake hands

A weak grip in a handshake may not mean anything except that someone is shy or lacks confidence in social settings.

On the other hand, a strong handshake may mean that someone is strong, confident, and trustworthy.

Could there be more to the story? Yes, as it turns out. Grip strength may actually indicate more than a personality indicator. Several recent studies suggest a correlation between grip strength and longevity.

One study carried out by researchers from University College London found evidence on the association between measures of physical capability, grip strength and balance, and the risk of an earlier death.

Another study by The Lancet concluded that grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.

PLOS Medicine did a nationwide population-based study in Taiwan among middle-aged and older people. It found that weak handgrip strength showed a significant association between cardiometabolic risk, and the danger of coronary artery disease.

My daughter, a Bodywork Therapist, is continually teaching her clients about the importance of doing muscle strengthening exercises. Since she is an expert on muscles (like a muscle doctor), my husband and I have found that it always benefits us to listen to her teaching and follow her advice.

I asked her what she thought about the importance of a strong grip. Very important, she replied, She explained that the strength of hand grips are a product of something called ‘recruiting’. Recruiting happens when our hand muscles call on muscles from other parts of our body – such as arms, neck, shoulders and even our torso. If those other muscles do not have the strength to respond, than it could be an indicator of muscle weakness. I believe that she hit the mark. A strong core can provide strength to our entire body.

Focusing on our grip strength and ways to improve it can mean more than simply a longer life – it can mean a better quality of life as well. Other reasons why a weak grip can impact our lives: The ability to stay active and independent frequently begins with our hands. Weak hand strength can impair a person’s ability to open a jar, grip a steering wheel, brush your teeth, or hold a grandchild. If you can’t open your medicine bottle, then taking medications becomes difficult.

Time to ‘get a grip’

To get a stronger grip on life, here are some exercises to help you work on your hand strength.

Here are some handgrip exercises, but keep in mind that the overall goal is to strengthen the entire body.

Web MD Slideshow: 10 Ways to Exercise Hands and Fingers

Range-of-motion hand mobility exercises you can do at home

Your muscles and tendons move the joints through arcs of motion, such as when you bend and straighten your fingers. If your normal range of motion is impaired — if you can’t bend your thumb without pain, for example — you may have trouble doing ordinary things like opening a jar.

These exercises move your wrist and fingers through their normal ranges of motion and require all the hand’s tendons to perform their specific functions. They should be done slowly and deliberately, to avoid injury. If you feel numbness or pain during or after exercising, stop and contact your doctor.

Harvard Health Publishing offers exercises to improve hand mobility  Below are five easy-to-do range-of-motion hand mobility exercises. Hold each position for 5–10 seconds. Do 10 repetitions of each exercise at a time. Repeat three times a day.

  1. Wrist extension and flexion
  • Place your forearm on a table on a rolled-up towel for padding with your hand hanging off the edge of the table, palm down.
  • Move the hand upward until you feel a gentle stretch
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat the same motions with the elbow bent at your side, palm facing up.
  1. Wrist supination/pronation
  • Stand or sit with your arm at your side with the elbow bent to 90 degrees, palm facing down.
  • Rotate your forearm, so that your palm faces up and then down.
  1. Wrist ulnar/radial deviation
  • Support your forearm on a table on a rolled-up towel for padding or on your knee, thumb upward.
  • Move the wrist up and down through its full range of motion.
  1. Thumb flexion/extension
  • Begin with your thumb positioned outward.
  • Move the thumb across the palm and back to the starting position.
  1. Hand/finger tendon glide
  • Start with the fingers extended straight out.
  • Make a hook fist; return to a straight hand.
  • Make a full fist; return to a straight hand.
  • Make a straight fist; return to a straight hand.

For more information on the causes and treatment of hand pain, and strengthening strategies for hands, buy Healthy Hands, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.


A Digi-Flex helps users develop strength and dexterity in their fingers and hands. Trumpet players and softball players both use them to improve their manual agility, Evers said, so these devices are found in both music and sporting-goods stores.

Theraputty, which is like a more substantial Play-Doh and available in varying degrees of pliability, also is used in strength-building regimens.

“This is something we give out to patients. They take it home for home therapies and get different colors as they progress,” McKerrow said.

Although the putty can be satisfying to move around as a stress buster, McKerrow said there are specific exercises to go along with it, such as squeezing it between the thumb and forefinger to improve pincer hold strength.

In addition to working on the fingers and hands, McKerrow said the wrist and forearm are important aspects of total hand function.

“You need to have good wrist extension when you hold that coffee cup,” she said.

Want to get to work on your own hand strength? Evers and McKerrow shared the following exercises:

Rubber-ball squeeze: Grasp a ball in the palm of your hand and squeeze it as firmly as you can. Hold this squeeze for 8 to 10 seconds.

Theraputty pinches: Hold a small ball of putty between your thumb and finger. Squeeze it flat or roll it into a tube shape.

Rubberband stretch: Hold your hand with your fingers together and flat and your thumb directly underneath them. Place a rubber band over your thumb and fingers, then slowly move your fingers away from your thumb. Hold this position for a few seconds, then repeat.

Forward wrist extension: Sit near the edge of a table with your forearm supported from wrist to elbow. Your hand should be off the table and your palm should be facing the ceiling. Holding a light weight, slowly curl your wrist upward. Hold for a few seconds, then lower.

Backward wrist extension: Stand holding a light weight with your arm straight by your side. Your thumb should be pointed forward. Slowly flex your wrist to point the weight upward behind you. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower it.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t be too quick to judge someone’s health by their handshake – remember, some folks are left-handed and will naturally have a lighter grip with their non-dominate hand.

"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link:
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” By Senia Owensby

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.