Studies reveal that millennials’ grip strength is 10% less than test subjects in the same age range 30 years ago. Cause for concern, or cause for setting the standards to a “new norm”? Is it because we’re not farming, or rather are we too good at thumb swiping? Katy does a quick double-take in this handy episode.
KATY: Welcome to the Katy Says podcast. Where Katy Bowman and Dani Hemmat talk about movement, the tiny details of the larger issues, and why movement matters. I’m Katy B, Katy Bowman, biomechanist, and author of … I always say Katy B …
DANI: I’ve never heard you say that!
KATY: Katy B is what everyone called me in, like, Junior high and High school. It’s Katy B, Katy B. That, and K-Bo. K-Bo.
DANI: K-Bo. Yeah. That’s your rap name.
KATY: K-Bo is my, it is my cheerleader handle. Biomechanist, cheerleader, cheerleader of life and author of Move Your DNA. And who are you?
DANI: And I, I am just Dani Hemmat.
DANI: No snappy nicknames for me. I’m a chronically curious movement teacher.
KATY: Oh c’mon. You’re never just anything. You are everything.
KATY: All right. So we’re gonna get a grip today. Especially you.
DANI: I need to get a grip. You got a problem?
KATY: You need to get a grip. So, we did arm swing, last episode.
DANI: Mm-hmm. Which was fun.
KATY: It was fun. You didn’t feel, like, you felt like, going into it, a little unsure of where we were going to head up and it was great. And we’re gonna do the same thing, kind of, for grip strength today.
DANI: Excellent. I’m looking forward to that.
KATY: I’m gonna just jump into it. If you don’t mind.
KATY: I just want a short one because I’m under a book deadline. A final thing. So we’re like, chop, chop! Stick to it. No puns today at all, you hear me?
DANI: I hear ya! Whether or not I listen…
KATY: Well exactly. Exactly. I bought the book. Did you read it? I bought it. It’s on my shelf. I’m hoping some day it just comes into my head.
DANI: I’m sleeping with it under my pillow.
KATY: So grip strength. I posted this on our social media channels because I felt it was particularly interesting. So, a quick history of grip strength. Last year, which was, would be 2015, there was kind of a flurry of headlines around a couple of studies around the measure of grip strength as a predictor for different diseases. Kind of like in the same way that sitting time became kind of a predictor of all mortality types, grip strength, too, it seems, has its correlation to different issues. And so, I heard about it, right? Because everyone, of course, sends this to me because I do a lot with grip strength. Hanging – that’s in Move your DNA. That’s in a lot of stuff that I write about. But the fact that it could be relating to all of these other issues including cancers in some demographics; kind of richer demographics. People are like, “why?” And of course all the health magazines are like “What’s going on?” you know, “Should we be strengthening our grip”, you know … I think we might have even talked about this at some point.
DANI: Well I mean, yeah, we’ve talked about hand function and different ways to hold stuff
KATY: Well I mean, even this, I feel like we might have even touched on this just a little bit with different headlines because it was, like, the magazine’s way of framing it was; Since grip strength is correlated to these diseases, go get some of those grip strength balls. Remember?
DANI: Yes. That’s what it was. We did, yes.
KATY: Remember? Yeah. Strengthen your hands, you know, start training your hands. And it was like, that was what the study was showing was more the correlation and the idea being that people with better grip strength, or people that just probably use their bodies overall more, right? So they’re moving more in general. It’s just a cheat predictor.
DANI: I’m sorry, before that article last year, because I remember when you posted that, has it always been, have they always used grip strength in that way. Or was that …
DANI: … like they finally made that correlation last year of these different ailments and mortality?
KATY: I’d never seen it as a test. I mean, I certainly…
KATY: … certainly learned grip strength was, you know, a unit in my training and we had hand dynamometers which were these things we’d just grab and you squeeze really hard and it’s measuring the force production in pounds. How strong is your grip? How many pounds can you compress, really, with your grip, is what it’s measuring. And it was just, it’s considered just, you know, there’s general norms, mostly through therapy, so, physical therapy and probably more especially occupational therapy, O.T.; they’re gonna be looking at how well can you use your hands. So, you know, if kids maybe have lower tone or strength in their hands or they’re having a problem gripping pencils, you know, it’s definitely been a measure in overall health. Older people, the loss of the strength to open jars, you know, that’s a functional skill. So it’s definitely been a health measure, but I’m not sure why someone thought to correlate it to everything else. It probably, what I would speculate happened, is there’re all sorts of strength measures always being taken from large population studies and that someone, in running numbers, just happened to see that one of the strength measures; low strength coming up over and over again, that was also coming up with diseases, happened to be grip strength and they, just, were able to publish a paper about it.
KATY: As opposed to going to specific… that’s what a lot of data just comes from a massive, tons of people just putting them through strength tests and it just sits there as data to be processed by someone at some point. So I speculate that that might have been what had happened.
DANI: Okay. Sorry to throw you off. Curious.
KATY: Yeah. It wasn’t like someone was like, “Hey, you know what? I bet you that people with cardiovascular disease would also have low grip strength.” I doubt it was like that. It was probably just an observation of a massive amount of data.
KATY: Which is fine. Like that’s how it happens. So 2016. We’re at the end of it right now. And earlier this summer in June another study came out, not related to health per se … health outcomes. It was related to millennials which is this term for … what is a millennial mean specifically? A person coming of adult age in the 2000s? Or born in?
DANI: Yeah. They were born in the 2000s. So it’s like 20 or, I guess it’d be 16 to…
KATY: It can’t be that.
DANI: No wait, no wait. It’s 90s. Isn’t that it?
KATY: I think it means that …
DANI: I’m Gen x so I don’t care about anything else after that but I think, I think we’re Gen X, right?
KATY: And what does that mean? Just like hyper focused on ourselves. Like we’re just like this… we’re like self-absorbed.
DANI: laughs. Oh yeah, because the millennials aren’t. No, I don’t know, I think the study was from ages 20 to 34 but I think millennials is you’re born in the early 90s or whatever.
KATY:Yeah. I know that people who are in their early 20s right now are considered millennials. So it can’t be born in the 2000s but I think it’s like, that you were, like that you’re whole – kind of the same way our experience, even though we were born in the 70s was kind of like the 80s and the 90s, – that theirs is really the bulk of the 2000s so far. The last 16 years has been, you know, teenage and formative years. Anyway, doesn’t matter. It means that people, like, around ages of 20 to 24, that their grip strength, as an age group, is less than what the grip strength of that age group was in the 80s. That when they gave a group of millennials this hand dynamometer test, that their average strength was significantly lower than that same group of people in 1985. I’m sorry, that same age range, not the same exact people.
KATY: They would have been, like, 2 years old. And that would have been weird if they were stronger at 2 then they were at 24.
DANI: That baby can’t hold that dynamometer right. It’s a bad baby. Okay, so same age group.
KATY: Same age group. Yeah. So people, like, 20 to 24, whatever the study was, they had stronger hands than the 20-24-year-olds now do. Which, as the researchers are putting in this paper, kind of makes sense because they type more, they grip less. I mean we’ve removed, they don’t really have hanging play. And it was interesting because the explanation was, kind of like, “Well, they’re doing less, you know, manual labor than they were doing in ’85”, and I was, like, I don’t think there was a whole lot of manual labor going on in 1985. I mean, I get that there’s been a general decline in strength from industrial, the, you know, pre-industrial and farming. And you keep going back and of course we’re clearly getting weaker and weaker. But I don’t think between 1985 … like I would imagine there’s probably less millennials doing manual labor, I mean like farming, at least has come into fashion. And gardening. So I think there’s probably, at least, urban heels digging into that but there’s definitely more computer work now and swiping? I imagine whatever that swiping motion is, it would kill it on whatever the strength measure is. They could, like, knock a brick down with their swiping.
KATY: But this ..
DANI: I think what you said, like when we grew up, the playgrounds – and there was so much
DANI: And that’s gone now. They don’t have a chance with that.
KATY: No. I mean it’s a completely different social climate right now and strength, as a big physical movement, is really gone out of it. So anyway, there are all kinds of articles, you know, “Ha ha millennials, you know, weak grip strength”, mocking the millennials. I was like, “Awesome, this is helpful.” But what I was most fascinated about was NPR – I love NPR – I would, like, I enjoy NPR’s presentation. I assumed always, I just kind of always, perhaps unjustly, give it like, “if NPR thinks it, then I probably think it too,” was kind of, like, my overall default. But it’s come up more than a few times in the last few years that I don’t think that’s the case, really, anymore. There’s definitely a transition.
DANI: We were in the same boat. Now we talk about how that was an eye roller when we listen to a story because it’s not always – you have to think of it more critically.
KATY: Yeah. You do. I mean at the end of the day…
DANI: I’m with ya.
KATY: … it’s just, I mean there’s just a lot of staff writers. There’s so much online media and the content’s coming out so quickly. But anyway. All of that aside, what blew me away as I was reading NPR’s take on it … So you guys can find this article, we can link in the show notes, it’s “Millennials May Be Losing Their Grip“. And you will also find in that NPR access to the original study. That was in the journal of hand…
KATY: So if you want to get the data. I think, so you can have specifics and numbers. I think that men, in their 20s experienced, I think, like, a 10 percent decrease in strength and women it was about a 15 percent. Just so you can have a sense of what I mean by significant. It was statistically significant that there was loss. And I would also say that a 10 percent to a 15 percent loss in hand function is also a significant thing to pay attention to.
KATY: So I read NPR’s take on it before I actually read the body of the study. And, so at first I was, like, “NPR, this is a crazy way to go with your take away from the study.” Which was “we need to adjust the norms of strength for therapy purposes because clearly, it’s ridiculous to be using…”
DANI: 1985 standards.
DANI: I know! I am so glad that’s what you took away from it. Because I have the same question marks and exclamation points all over the section. What?
KATY: I know. That was the takeaway. That clearly we are using the wrong numbers to assess humans in the 2000s because why would we want them to have this higher level of strength when that’s not what their peer group has. So, let me just stop right here and say that this thing that we are talking about right now is an aspect of a sedentary culture and a culture that uses data – that interprets scientific data – to normalize the current existing group. And instead of keeping track of data to really have a clear, like, “Wow we are becoming weaker and weaker and weaker and weaker.” We keep adjusting the norms so that we are normal and normal and normal and normal. And bonus! We all just got stronger with adjusting norms.
KATY: Like we all just, for those who had a really strong grip strength, you just became, on paper, relatively stronger if you only looked at percentages and didn’t compare it to other groups. So…
DANI: Can I read that sentence from the interpretive article?
DANI: Because I really got a kick of this one: “The findings suggest that it’s time to update what constitutes normal hand strength. The norms are used to assess the severity of injuries and how well people are recovering.” That’s what the findings suggest. That interpretation.
KATY: Well and that, I thought it was NPR’s suggestion… I thought that maybe NPR had influence in the story somehow. Which, you know, they really shouldn’t that much. I mean, I know the media does, or they picked out a key piece. But then I read the article and that was the purpose of the researchers. Like that was their, like, this is the clear – now we have an understanding that our expectations of strength, you know, might be way too high. You know, so they’re not a having human norm, or even a U.S. norm. And so like my comment was, “Wow! This is lowering the bar of human performance.” This is how it keeps slipping by – the deterioration of really the inadequacy of our habitat and our lifestyle and our behavior for supporting things like strength. So, anyway, I just thought, I thought it was interesting. And I cover this entire phenomenon in Movement Matters. So Movement Matters is coming up and…
KATy: And I use this example as well as a bunch of other examples to kind of show this is how it happens. You are seeing, you’re seeing a research paper, a peer-reviewed research paper come to the conclusion that this is the best social application of this data. You’re seeing medicine and therapy adjust its numbers based on what the science reveals. Which is really just, again, the science revealed the loss in strength. It was the researcher’s interpretation of that data
KATY: of how it should be applied. And then medicine is going to use that scientific data to, then, build its therapies, right? That will set the top of, you know, the tops and bottoms of what’s acceptable. And then you have NPR shaping public awareness of what, of going “Yeah, like clearly…” The quote that you just read was it the norms, the fashion, here goes … let me read it.
DANI: That’s the best one. I was saving that because that’s my absolute .. I’ve highlighted that with paint and stars and flowers because I loved it so much. Go…
KATY: “Like fashion trends, co-author Fain,” (which is the author of the research) “says health care norms should be updated roughly every ten years.” That we should be updating our health care norms like fashion trends…
DANI: Like fashion…
KATY: “This makes handgrip measurement well overdue for reassessment” So anyway, “In other words, the 1985 norms may be long in a drawer with your leg warmers and your scrunchies”, K-Bo. That’s where all that strength belongs. Strength is out of fashion, people. Strength is out of fashion.
DANI: Yes. If this were a video podcast you would see me shakin’ my head, lowering my eyes. Nope. Nuh uh uh.
KATY: Sedentary culture people. In the making. You are a lump of clay. This was a big push that just shoved you down into the couch a little bit deeper.
DANI: Well and that’s just such a scary, dangerous thing to start changing norms like that, of what’s … you know, of not looking at what does it mean, but just saying, “Well, we want to be normal.” We don’t want to say we’ve lost 10% so let’s figure out what we’re doing so that can make that not seem so drastic. Well…
KATY: You know, if it was that conscious I think that would be better.
DANI: You don’t think it is?
KATY: I don’t think it is. Absolutely not. I shouldn’t say absolutely not. I feel real strongly that it is not people going “hee hee hee,” you know, in a corner rubbing their hands together and going “you know what would be great is to slowly change…”
DANI: No I don’t mean…
KATY: I don’t think it’s conscious. I think that it makes, I think that the arguments are therapy-centric. Which is that, I really think that everyone just really sees lifestyle, like sedentary is just your ability to change or shift your situation. And so it’s a way, it’s a subconscious way of making your whole body expend less energy. So, again, you can see more of that point of view explained more. I don’t think it’s conscious. I think it’s subconscious and I think it is a reliance on things like NPR and other people interpreting the data or reading the data and medical norms. I think it’s just, I think it’s human nature, probably, more than anything else. And what I found most interesting was, you know, the manuscript – my manuscript went out to experts, many experts in different fields who were viewing. You know, I know biomechanics and it’s my field, but there’s other people in different fields of evolutionary biology, and mathematics, and wild food, and plant biology, and ecology who could read it and comment on it and give me perspective; “You might want to phrase it this way.” So I really consider a lot of that data.
DANI: That’s cool.
KATY: And one of the interesting comments on this paper came from an evolutionary biologist that I was lucky enough to get to engage with regularly on the book and was grateful to do so, but she said, “You know, this phenomenon, this happens all of the time, essentially”. But she has some data on magnesium; that our magnesium levels used to be super high but we keep adjusting all chemical toxics exposures, tolerance, we just keep adjusting it. We just, the bar just goes down and down and down, because the outcome really becomes “Well, you’re not dead,” you know. It really becomes, you know, a smaller and smaller tolerance for what it means to be healthy. Or a more narrow description. At this point, it’s getting closer and closer to “alive”. You know. Despite, you know …
KATY: despite the technologies and the inputs necessary. So, is grip strength necessary for keeping you alive? You could say no. But then this other … what I found really interesting was that no journalist called back up the stuff from 2015 going, “Wait a minute? Should we not be concerned with this other thing that in fact maybe there is something related to grip strength that keeps us alive or disease-free? Because we have these other papers that suggest that grip strength, or the use of the body including the grip, is part of a bigger thing.” That was not brought up. Where in science you would really be pulling everything to do with grip strength to integrate it into a paper, into a thesis, or a larger perspective, so…
KATY: Anyway. That’s all I have to say about grip strength. I just thought it would be fun to point it out and then just really encourage people, again, to get out there and start thinking about whole body: grip strength, you don’t need to grab and grip, grip, you know, a ball at your desk, as much as, start moving your whole body, including your weight passing through your hands.
DANI: Well, can I just point out that, after I read this article, I’m like, “I wonder what’s going on out there.” Because I get stuck in my closet sometimes. And I started looking up, you know, responses to this and ways… because ever since last summer there have been lots of little health articles about how to improve your grip strength and everything.
DANI: Every single one. I probably read …
KATY: Not every single one because I know that I commented on one to say “Do not go out and buy a grip strength machine.”
DANI: No, but every article that I came across about how to improve it was gym related. They were all exercises to improve your grip strength in your gym. You know, passing around barbells, you know, every single one. There wasn’t anything outside of that realm. And I thought that was really interesting.
KATY: There’s nothing about movement outside of the exercise realm as a whole entire cultural perspective. That’s why the podcast …
DANI: Maybe we should adjust the norms, Katy.
KATY: You know what we should do is we need to …
DANI: Adjust the norms
KATY: Actually that’s what I’m doing, right? I, too, am adjusting the norms. It’s just that I want to adjust them up, not down.
KATY: So we’re all, maybe, doing the same thing. It’s just that my way of adjusting it seems to lend it to more work. Right? Like I’m adjusting it going, “Nope, nope. The work’s essential. Go up.” Where maybe the collective culture as a whole – not every single person in it, and probably not people listening to this but – the momentum of the sedentary culture is to continue to perpetuate its sedentary state. So anyway. Movement Matters. The Book. Go read the article on grip strength if you want to watch a sedentary culture in the making. And certainly go out and start moving your hands more, huh? And your whole body?
DANI: That’s right. Put your leg warmers back on and start using your hands a lot more. That’s my vote.
KATY: Yeah. Arms. Shoulders. And definitely. You know what, you can use your hands to put your scrunchie in.
DANI: You could!
KATY: If you had a scrunchie back there. That thing was no joke.
KATY: I had to use all kinds of grip strength right?
DANI: Yeah, different. Pinching, pulling, the whole shebang.
DANI: Well, it’s a good thing we talked about this.
KATY: All right. Well thanks, man. Thanks for entertaining it.
DANI: Yeah, it was good. Thank you. It was very good. I always like these. I’m all handy now.
KATY: I said no puns!
DANI: Oops. All right.
KATY: Can’t help yourself.
DANI: We are done. You have books to do.
KATY: I gotta go finish this.
DANI: All right. Well, thanks for listening. For more information, books and online exercise classes, you can find K-Bo or Katy B. at NutritiousMovement.com and you can find more from me, Dani Hemmat, at MoveYourBodyBetter.com
VOICE OVER: Hopefully you find the general information on this podcast informative and helpful, but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such.