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Getting a Grip on Heart Health

By August 3, 2015Huffington Post

I am fascinated by offbeat clues to the presence and significance of heart disease. A death due to cardiovascular disease occurs every 45 seconds and any and all tools to prevent it are welcome. I have written before here about my campaign to prevent one million heart attacks. Findings like earlobe creases, central balding, erectile dysfunction, and exertional leg pain can lead to the diagnosis of heart disease and life saving therapies. But who would anticipate that grip strength would predict future heart deaths? Or that grip strength exercises using isometrics are an effective therapy for elevated blood pressure?

In terms of grip strength and heart outcome, researchers assessed whether this simple and inexpensive evaluation could predict future cardiac and deaths. In the Prospective Urban-Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study 139,691 subjects aged 35-70 years had an assessment of grip strength, measured using a dynamometer and were followed for 4 years. Grip strength was inversely associated with all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, heart attacks, and stroke! A big surprise was that grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure which is the focus of so much treatment. While the mechanism by which hand grip strength impacts outcome is not clear, it has been proposed that it is a marker of overall muscular strength and biological age.

Grip strength may also be a therapy of heart disease. Isometric training for blood pressure management has been studied since at least 1992 and has been found to lower both systolic and diastolic pressures. Hand grip exercises, usually for 10 minutes a day, have been tested and also lower blood pressure. Improvements in endothelial function and autonomic nervous system function have been identified and proposed as the mechanism. A commercially available computer controlled device, Zona, is easy to use in my clinic.

With the the number of persons diagnosed with high blood pressure expected to rise to 40 percent of adults in the USA in the next decade, and some ethnic groups already suffering this condition in over half of members, all therapies that can prevent and treat hypertension are worth considering. A strong hand grip is the new goal of a healthy heart and a normal blood pressure. Give me a hand in spreading the word.

Originally posted on HuffingtonPost.com