Grip strength refers to the hand and forearm muscles’ power for gripping. It is often used as a measure of overall physical fitness,yet research supports there is also a significant link to cognitive performance as well. A firm grip is essential for daily activities such as carrying groceries, opening jars, and holding heavy objects. This article will explore the strong association between grip strength and cognitive performance and studies which have reported their association.
The Mechanisms Behind the Relationship between Grip Strength and Cognitive Function
The association between cognitive function and grip strength can be explained through several mechanisms.
Proper functioning of the neuromuscular system is essential for both grip strength and cognitive function. Studies have shown that muscle strength and cognitive function both decline with age, and this decline is due to changes in the brain and neuromuscular system. (Manini et al., 2013).
Grip strength requires integrating several neural and physiological processes, including muscle activation, motor coordination, and sensory feedback. These processes also play a vital role in cognitive function, particularly in tasks that require attention, memory, and executive function (Shaughnessy et al., 2022).
Implications for Clinical Practice
Grip strength may be used as a screening tool for cognitive impairment, particularly in older adults. Furthermore, grip strength training may be recommended as an adjunct therapy for patients with cognitive impairment, particularly those with age-related cognitive decline.
Nurses, practitioners, physicians, and other healthcare providers should assess grip strength in their patients, particularly older adults, as a part of the routine health examination. By improving neuromuscular function through grip strength training, healthcare providers can improve cognitive performance and prevent cognitive decline.
Scientific Evidence on Grip Strength and Cognitive Function
Research has shown that grip strength strongly predicts cognitive function in both older and young adults. Stronger grip strength is associated with higher cognitive performance in several cognitive domains, including attention, processing speed, memory, and executive function. We have listed some of the research below:
- A study conducted by Wichelhaus et al. (2018) found that grip strength was a significant predictor of cognitive performance in older adults, even after controlling for sex, age, education, and physical activity. Similarly, another study by Shaughnessy et al. (2020) found that grip strength was a significant predictor of cognitive function in middle-aged adults.
- A study by Seidler et al (2010). found that higher grip strength was associated with larger grey matter volume in the brain regions that are important for cognitive function, including the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.
- A study conducted by Jiang et al. (2022) showed that stronger grip strength was linked with better mental health, both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. At the brain level, they found widespread associations between grip strength and greater GMV (grey matter volume) in subcortical and temporal cortices. Moreover, these GMVs also correlated with better mental health and considerably mediated the effect of grip strength on cognitive functioning. Their results provide insights into the complex interplay between grip strength, brain structure, and mental health.
- A study by Firth et al. (2018) by the University of Manchester assessed 475,397 participant’s grip strength and cognitive performance. The participants were between 40 and 69 years old and completed multiple cognitive tests, including memory, verbal and mathematical reasoning, as well as reaction time. The study controlled for factors such as age, sex, body mass index, smoking status, and socioeconomic status (Firth et al., 2018).
The results of the study showed a strong association between grip strength and cognitive performance. Participants with higher grip strength performed better on all cognitive tests than those with lower grip strength. Specifically, grip strength was positively associated with memory, reasoning, and reaction time.The study’s findings support previous research on the topic and suggest that maintaining physical fitness, particularly grip strength, can substantially impact cognitive performance positively.
Grip strength is not only a robust predictor of cognitive performance but also a modifiable risk factor for cognitive decline. More research is needed to examine the optimal duration of grip strength training for enhancing cognitive function, particularly in individuals with age-related cognitive decline.
By incorporating grip strength training into clinical practice, healthcare providers can improve neuromuscular and cognitive function and prevent age-related cognitive degeneration in patients. Healthcare professionals should encourage patients to engage in physical activities that will enhance grip strength, such as weightlifting, resistance training, and handgrip exercises. A digital grip strengthener of Squegg, the smart dynamometer and hand trainer measures grip strength routinely. It is a blue-tooth-enabled dynamometer with digital grip strengthener that helps to train the grip and helps to measure grip strength progress.
- Firth, J., Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Firth, J. A., Large, M., Rosenbaum, S., Hallgren, M., Ward, P. B., Sarris, J., & Yung, A. R. (2018). Grip strength is associated with cognitive performance in schizophrenia and the general population: A UK Biobank Study of 476559 participants. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 44(4), 728–736. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sby034
- Godman, H. (2022, September 1). Poor Handgrip Strength in midlife linked to cognitive decline. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/poor-handgrip-strength-in-midlife-liked-to-cognitive-decline
- Jiang, R., Westwater, M. L., Noble, S., Rosenblatt, M., Dai, W., Qi, S., Sui, J., Calhoun, V. D., & Scheinost, D. (2022). Associations between grip strength, brain structure, and mental health in > 40,000 participants from the UK Biobank. BMC Medicine, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-022-02490-2
- Manini, T. M., Hong, S. L., & Clark, B. C. (2013). Aging and muscle. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 16(1), 21–26. https://doi.org/10.1097/mco.0b013e32835b5880
- Seidler, R. D., Bernard, J. A., Burutolu, T. B., Fling, B. W., Gordon, M. T., Gwin, J. T., Kwak, Y., & Lipps, D. B. (2010). Motor control and aging: Links to age-related brain structural, functional, and biochemical effects. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34(5), 721–733. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.10.005
- Shaughnessy, K. A., Hackney, K. J., Clark, B. C., Kraemer, W. J., Terbizan, D. J., Bailey, R. R., & McGrath, R. (2020). A narrative review of Handgrip strength and cognitive functioning: Bringing a new characteristic to muscle memory. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 73(4), 1265–1278. https://doi.org/10.3233/jad-190856.
- Wichelhaus, A., Harms, C., Neumann, J., Ziegler, S., Kundt, G., Prommersberger, K. J., Mittlmeier, T., & Mühldorfer-Fodor, M. (2018). Parameters influencing hand grip strength measured with the manugraphy system. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 19(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-018-1971-4.