Teenagers with a weak grip are more likely to suffer from diabetes and heart disease in later life, warns new research.
Scientists say although children should exercise and eat a healthy diet – not enough emphasis is being placed on improving and maintaining muscular strength.
The Baylor University-led study found boys and girls with weaker grips were up to three times more likely to suffer from a decline in their health.
For decades, grip strength has been used a good indicator of frailty or health in older people, with stronger grips being linked to an early grave.
But the new research, conducted on students in the US, is the first to test over time if muscle weakness in teenagers predicates ill-health in adulthood.
Students were tracked from fourth-grade (year 5) to the end of fifth-grade (year 6), with their grips measured in both their dominant and non-dominant hands.
Their handshake was measured using a mechanical dynamometer, which measures how much mass someone can compress in 11lb (5kg) increments.
An analysis of the results revealed 27.9 per cent of the boys and 20.1 per cent of the girls were classified as having a weak grip.
The Baylor researchers carried out the study in conjunction with the University of Michigan and the University of New England.
And the team found that strong teenagers that developed a stronger grip did not see any drastic improvement in their health – suggesting it is the weaker teenagers who are most at risk.
Professor Paul Gordon, senior author, said: ‘What we know about today’s kids is that because of the prevalence of obesity, they are more at risk for developing pre-diabetes and cardiovascular disease than previous generations.
‘This study gives multiple snapshots over time that provide more insight about grip strength and future risks for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
‘Low grip strength could be used to predict cardiometabolic risk and to identify adolescents who would benefit from lifestyle changes to improve muscular fitness.’
Researchers also accounted for other risk factors that could lead to poor health – such as levels of physical activity, body mass and blood pressure.
However, Professor Gordon revealed that ‘even after taking into account other factors’, the link between poor health in teens and a weak grip remained.
He called for further trials to better understand how weakness during childhood can have a lasting effect.
The findings of the new study were published in the Journal of Paediatrics.
An array of evidence has emerged in recent years over the links between weak grips and poor health. But the exact mechanism behind the protective effects of a firmer handshakes remains unknown.
Several large studies have even suggested grip strength may be better than current methods to predict lifespan, such as blood pressure.
While other trials have uncovered a link between men having a strong handshake being less likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.
Other research has found people with a stronger hand grip are better at problem-solving, memory tests and reasoning, and have faster reaction times.