A good firm handshake is often seen as a sign of power and confidence, but new research into grip strength shows that it could also be an indicator of marital status and success in relationships.
Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Columbia Aging Center found that a stronger grip in men meant a higher likelihood of being married and a weaker handshake was associated more with single men. Vegard Skirbekk, Ph.D. is a professor at Columbia Aging Center and the Mailman School of Population and Family Health. He explained, "Our results hint that women may be favoring partners who signal strength and vigor when they marry. If longer-lived women marry healthier men, then both may avoid or defer the role of caregiver, while less healthy men remain unmarried and must look elsewhere for assistance."
The study used population-based data from 5,009 adults from the Norwegian city of Tromsø. Two groups were studied, those born between 1923 and 1935 and those born between 1936 and 1948. The study participants were all between the ages of 59 and 71 when they were in the study. Hand grip was measured with a vigorimeter, which involves patients squeezing a rubber balloon to measure the strength of their grip. Hand strength can be problematic for older adults. Since some mobility issues develop as we age, having a secure grip is essential if canes or other mobility aids are needed. Grip strength has also been linked to better cardiovascular health, fewer fractures and those who have good hand strength also tend to be more socially active and engage in activities that keep them engaged mentally.
Of course, as times change and marriage is not viewed as essential for happiness or success, the numbers were impacted. In the first cohort of the study, with participants born between 1923 and 1935, there were more single men with lower grip strength than there were in the second cohort born years later. Societal norms change and many men just choose not to get married, so that had to be factored into the results. The researchers suggested that looking at a population of single men, who would likely not have a partner or children to help them as they age and who also had lower levels of strength would be a good idea to identify older men who might need social services or other interventions. While living independently can be managed, even into old age, having a way to identify those who may need more help would benefit those who might not be prepared for the trials of aging alone.