• Higher grip strength may be a key indicator of a longer lifespan, according to new research.
  • Having good grip strength can also benefit your rides: It’s important for holding onto your bike’s handlebars and riding over rocks and roots on mountain bike trails.
  • Exercises like a farmer’s carry, 90-degree kettlebell hold, ball squeeze, and dead hang can help build grip strength.

For better performance on the bike, you may be incorporating cross-training activities like yoga and plyometrics, but what about your grip? A new study in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests that bringing that element into your training mix can not only be beneficial to your rides, it may even lengthen your life.

Researchers looked at just over 5,000 women who were part of a larger research effort, the Long Life Study, and followed them for an average of five years to determine the effects of weight loss, weight gain, and other health indicators—like grip strength, smoking, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes—on their lifespans.

They also determined functional status through a test, called the short physical performance battery (SPPB), that includes measures like gait speed and balance.

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They found that more grip strength and higher SPPB scores were associated with lower mortality risk, regardless of any weight change within that five years. They also noted that weight loss was associated with a 66 percent higher risk of early mortality, while weight gain didn’t increase that likelihood.

The researchers noted that the findings suggest there should be less focus on weight loss in older adults, especially women, and more effort toward improved mobility and muscle strength.

This isn’t the first time grip strength has been highlighted as an important biomarker for healthy aging, and that goes for men as well as women. For example, 2019 research analysis in Clinical Interventions in Aging noted that how well you grip goes well beyond hand strength. It may also be an indicator of upper limb function, mobility, cognition, and fall risk. For example, the analysis noted, significantly lower grip strength than normal has been associated with physical limitations, including less ability to walk for at least six minutes.

The connection exists because a strong grip is related to a certain level of muscular force, according to Tiago da Silva Alexandre, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Gerontology at the University of Sao Carlos in Brazil, who co-authored another recent study on hand grip strength that showed an association with mobility.

“When it comes to maintaining exercise performance as you age, prevention can be key,” he told Bicycling. “Strength is part of that, and it’s easier to maintain strength than to build it up when you already have mobility loss.”

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Strength training overall, where you increase muscle mass throughout the body, can often lead to a stronger grip even if you don’t work on that grip specifically, Alexandre said. However, because having a good grip can be useful for holding onto your bike’s handlebars and riding over rocks and roots on mountain bike trails, doing forearm exercises can be helpful.

These exercises can prevent hand fatigue, boost overall strength, and give you better ability in the three different types of grip—crush, support, and pinch.

Exercises like a farmer’s carry, 90-degree kettlebell hold, ball squeeze, and dead hang can build strength in all three types of grip. Not only will you see potential performance gains on your rides, but you’re likely to see better mobility off the bike, too.

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Elizabeth Millard

Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food.