Have you Exercised Your Hands and Wrists Today?
I’ve written it before in this column, and I’ll write it again. For a healthy, balanced body, all approximately 650 muscles of the body must be balanced—both flexible and strong. ALL muscles, from fingers to toes and in between. Hand and wrist muscles…do you ever think about them? I never did. Although I’ve exercised all my life, most of my attention was to the big muscles of my legs and arms and abdominals, and I never thought about my hands and feet.
A few years ago, I heard that grip strength has been linked to longevity. It’s one of the indictors doctors use with their patients to determine heart attack and stroke risk. A study published in 2015 in The Lancet, an international research publication, showed that decreased grip strength correlated to increased risk (17 percent) of cardiovascular death, 7 percent increased risk of heart attack and a 9 percent increased risk of stroke. Although the link is not understood, there is some thought that it is due to sarcopenia (decreasing muscle mass associated with disease and/or aging).
That got my attention! Although I was only in my early 40’s, I had noticed that it was getting more difficult to open jars in the kitchen. So, not only could diminishing grip strength indicate a health risk, it’s also inconvenient. It’s not been shown that by increasing grip strength cardiovascular health improves, but it is clear that when muscles are not used, they atrophy, even those of our hands and wrists. I want to be able to open jars and grip a can opener and twist doorknobs forever, if possible. Athletes of all ages want to be able to swing a golf club or a tennis racket or a pickle ball paddle…this all requires grip strength. Full range of motion of fingers, hands and wrists must be regularly practiced to the muscles for strength and flexibility.
At the time that I noticed jars were getting harder for me to open, I was already doing Essentrics. Although Essentrics works every muscle of the body, I hadn’t been taking the hand exercises very seriously. But, once I started paying more attention to the exercises my grip strength improved. I can easily open jars now, and to my delight a nagging pain that I used to have just below my elbow went away and has never returned.
A side effect of poor grip strength is pain and possible injury. People with diminishing grip strength may experience problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow, technically known as lateral epicondylitis. Although lateral epicondylitis is known as tennis elbow, this painful condition around the elbow joint can be caused by any repetitive movement such as typing, texting, knitting, etc.
As you can see in the pictures of this column, the hands are all positioned similarly, fingers folded around a tool, which can lead to some muscles overworking, some underworking, some shortening, some lengthening. The muscles are unbalanced, which negatively affects range of motion of the joints. Exercises to balance (strengthen and stretch) the muscles that support the joint movement of the fingers, wrists and elbows is beneficial for many.
In this video I give you a few exercises to try. Results will vary, and anyone who is injured, in pain or new to exercise should consult with a medical professional before starting this or any exercise.