What to Know About Grip Strength and How to Measure It

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on July 21, 2023
3 min read

For older adults, grip strength is not only important because it's needed to function in everyday life. It's also a good measure of your overall strength. Testing grip strength is quick and cheap, so it's an easy way to assess your overall health status.

Research has shown that grip strength is associated with a number of health indicators, including:

Mobility. While grip strength isn't necessarily used when you're walking, it's associated with mobility. People with physical limitations are more likely to have decreased grip strength.

Overall strength. Grip strength is a good indicator of overall strength. But there are some cases where this doesn't apply. It may be better to measure grip strength along with leg strength for a more accurate indicator. 

Cognitive function. People who have good grip strength scored better on tests of working memory, processing speed, and verbal ability. They are also less likely to have thinking problems as they age.

Bone mineral density. Low grip strength is correlated with low bone mineral density, which is how strong your bones are. It’s a strong risk factor for osteoporosis, which is when your bones get thinner. People with low grip strength are also more likely to have hip fractures and fragility fractures. Fragility fractures are fractures that happen from a fall of standing height or less. 

Heart health. A study of 140,000 people showed that decreased grip strength was associated with measures of heart health. For each 11-pound decrease in grip strength, there was:

  • A 16% increase in deaths from any cause
  • A 17% increase in death from heart disease
  • A 9% increase in the risk of having a stroke
  • A 7% increase in the risk of having a heart attack

Grip strength is measured using an instrument called a dynamometer. Measure your grip strength with a dynamometer using the following steps:

  1. Hold your arm with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Squeeze the dynamometer as hard as possible.
  3. Apply grip force in a smooth motion. Avoid jerking.
  4. Repeat twice more for a total of three times.
  5. Your grip strength is the average of the three readings.

A high grip strength reading will vary based on your age, sex, and which hand you measure. Your dynamometer manual will have a table that will tell you high, average, and low grip strengths for your age and sex for your left and right hands. If you're having your grip strength measured in a gym or doctor's office, the person doing the test will explain your results.

You can work grip-strengthening exercises into your daily routine. Here are some tips for increasing your grip strength:

  • Wash your car by hand instead of taking it through the car wash.
  • Use a push lawnmower to cut your grass instead of a riding lawnmower.
  • Shovel your snow instead of using a snowblower.
  • Open your garage door manually instead of using an electric garage door opener.
  • Carry your groceries to your car instead of driving up and having them loaded.
  • Rake your leaves instead of blowing them.
  • Squeeze a stress or tennis ball.

As you become stronger overall, your grip strength will improve, as well. If you're over 40 and haven't been active recently, talk to your doctor about what type of strength training program will be best for you. You can strength train using your body weight, resistance tubes, free weights, or weight machines. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your strength training:

  • Warm up your muscles by walking 5 or 10 minutes before you begin.
  • Choose a weight or resistance level that will tire your muscles after 12 to 15 repetitions. When you can easily perform more, gradually increase the weight or resistance level.
  • One set of 12 to 15 repetitions can be as effective as 3 sets. Working your muscles to fatigue is an important part of building strength. Fatigue is the point when you can't do another repetition.
  • Rest for a full day before you exercise the same muscles again.
  • If you feel pain, stop the exercise. Try a lower weight or try again in a few days.
  • Use the proper technique to avoid injuries. If you don't know how to maintain proper form, work with a trainer who can show you.
  • Make sure you're breathing as you strength train.