Perhaps palm readers are on to something. A massive study of some 140,000 people aged 35 to 70 in 17 countries finds the palms of a person's hands may be better than blood pressure at indicating their risk of heart attack, stroke, or an early death. Specifically, researchers say quick declines in the force of a person's grip—as opposed to a slower, natural decline with age—show an increased risk for health problems, the BBC reports. Researchers monitored participants’ health over four years and used a handgrip dynamometer to measure grip strength, Harvard Health reports. Each 11-pound drop in grip strength was associated with an increase in a person's risk of dying from heart disease by 17% and from any cause by 16%. The weaker grip was also associated with an increased risk of stroke by 9% and heart attack by 7%, researchers say.
There was no connection, however, to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, or other chronic conditions. Researchers aren't sure why evidence of a weak heart might appear in a person's grip, but it's possible that hardened arteries hinder muscle strength. Experts also say a person’s grip is a strong indicator of a person’s biological age—a measure of body function influenced by physical fitness, illnesses, and strength—rather than their chronological age. "Grip strength could be an easy and inexpensive test to assess an individual's risk of death and cardiovascular disease," a researcher says in a press release. "Further research is needed to establish whether efforts to improve muscle strength are likely to reduce an individual's risk of death and cardiovascular disease." (A study claims our hands were designed to punch.)