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Can’t open jars? This may be a sign of an underlying pathology

According to an Austrian study, lack of muscle strength (illustrated in particular by an inability to open jars) can reveal a pulmonary or cardiac pathology, and this, at any age. The researchers even mention “a powerful indicator of mortality”.

Can't open jars? This may be a sign of an underlying pathology

Carrying a pack of water, lifting a shopping bag, unscrewing the lid of a jar… These gestures require muscular effort normally within reach of the greatest number.

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But others, more in difficulty, tend to give it up in favor of outside help . Without worrying about it. 

But for researchers at the University of Vienna (Austria), the inability to carry out this type of action can be indicative of more serious underlying disorders. Poor grip strength – the ability to grasp something – would even be “a powerful predictor of mortality”, reads their study published on July 22, 2022 in the journal BMJ Open.

“Our results clearly show that muscle strength is a very accurate and sensitive measure of health conditions. We therefore suggest that it be used as a screening tool in medical practice,” said Nadia Steiber, professor in the sociology department at the University of Vienna and  co-author of the research.

Low muscle strength can reveal pathology at any age

As noted in the study, many previous publications have examined this issue. And teams of researchers have even determined that low muscle strength may be “a manifestation of health problems related to heart and lung problems .” This would also concern young adults, specify the authors in a press release.

So scientists at the University of Vienna wanted to decide at what muscle strength threshold a doctor should prescribe additional tests to his patients. In short, when – depending on age, size and gender – the difficulty of opening a jar or carrying groceries becomes worrying. 

To do this, they recruited nearly 8,156 women and men between the ages of 50 and 80. They were asked to squeeze a dynamometer – necessary for measuring force – twice in a row with each hand.

“Instead of simply comparing participants’ grip performance with a healthy reference population (…) the researchers compared each participant’s grip with individuals comparable in gender, age and height” , points out StudyFinds. 

Six groups were thus formed according to the muscle strength thresholds of each. And the results are unequivocal. Lower than average grip strength “indicates health problems, leading to early death,” the study says.

On the contrary, results above the average could reduce this risk of mortality. 

Force measurement: a diagnostic tool not to be overlooked

The generalization of this examination could allow health professionals to evaluate more easily and at a lower cost the muscular strength of their patients. And more personalized.

According to Sergei Scherbov, professor at the Department of Socioeconomics at the University of Vienna and lead author of the study, this logic is already proven when diagnosing other diseases.

“When the blood pressure level is outside a particular range, the doctor can either decide to prescribe a particular medicine or send the patient to a specialist for further examination.”

But the objective of this research is not to encourage the population to train this muscular strength to increase their life expectancy .

The impact on overall health would be too low, “a healthy lifestyle and exercise remain the best approaches to maintain good health or improve it in the long term”, concludes Sonja Spitzer, postdoctoral researcher at the Wittgenstein Center for Demography and Global Human Capital and at the University of Vienna.

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