If you have a firm handshake, can walk and chew gum at the same time, leap from your chair during a scary movie or always win the three legged race at the family reunion, then well, you just live longer than your fellow human. New studies from the BMJ (British Medical Journal) formed by UK researchers have discovered the relation between basic physical tasks and mortality.

How was this correlation discovered? By screening how well persons before basic functions can determine those folks that may benefit from targeted strength training programs as interventions used to improve longevity.

A review of 57 studied by the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing found 28 that looked at physical capability tests in humans of all ages and compared these to mortality rates. Institutionalized or those in nursing homes and hospitals were not included in this investigation. A total of 33 sets of individual results were reviewed after five additional, unpublicized comparisons were included in the total set.

Consistent evidence of associations between all four measures of physical capability (gripping, walking, rising from a chair and balancing on one leg) and death. Simply stated, persons who are unable to perform such tasks at a high level have a higher risk of death.

Objective measures of physical capability are predictors of all cause mortality in older community dwelling populations. Such measures may therefore provide useful tools for identifying older people at higher risk of death.

The following facts from the British study are quite eye-opening:
  • In 53,476 persons that had grip strength analyzed, death rate among the weakest people, taking into consideration age, sex and weight, was 1.67 times greater than among the persons with a stronger grip.
  • Slow walkers in a group of 14,692 participants had a 2.87 times great mortality rate than their more brisk counterparts.
  • Almost 50% increase in the rate of death was found in 28,036 people that rose out of their chairs slower than the other half of the group.
The association of grip strength with mortality was detected in younger populations although the studies covered an older population according to the research. The authors say that a steep decline in physical capability may be a better predictor of mortality than is the absolute level at a single point in time. Finally they concluded that adding a third variable of declining age in correlation to basic physical tasks and death rates may shed more light on this curious topic. Now go give someone a hug.

Objectively measured physical capability levels and mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis
Rachel Cooper, Diana Kuh, Rebecca Hardy
BMJ 2010; 341:c4467

Written by: Sy Kraft, B.A. - Journalism - California State University, Northridge (CSUN)