Handgrip Strength Linked With Cognitive Functioning Levels

April 24, 2018

The strength of a person’s handgrip was associated with their performance on multiple cognitive tasks, researchers found in a review of data on more than 110,000 people.

The association was identified in people with major depressive disorder, healthy controls, and, to a lesser degree, people with bipolar disorder. Results were published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

“Handgrip strength is associated with overall cognition in individuals with and without major depression,” wrote Joseph Firth, PhD, of the University of Western Sydney, Australia, and the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, and colleagues. “Muscular function may provide a proxy for assessing neurocognitive impairment and present a novel interventional outcome for targeting cognitive improvement.”

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The study was conducted in 2017 using data on 110,067 participants in the United Kingdom Biobank. Researchers controlled for age, educational level, sex, body weight, and geographic region.

Among the 22,699 people with recurrent moderate or severe depression, significant positive associations were found between maximal handgrip strength and improved performance on tests assessing visual memory, reaction time, reasoning, number memory, and prospective memory. Similar results were found in the healthy controls, who had no indication of previous or present mood disorders.

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Among the 1475 participants with bipolar disorder I or II, handgrip strength was positively associated with improved visual memory, reaction time, prospective memory, and reasoning.

“Grip strength may provide a useful indicator of cognitive impairment in people with major depression and bipolar disorder,” the study team concluded. “Future research should investigate causality, assess the functional implications of handgrip strength in psychiatric populations, and examine how interventions to improve muscular fitness affect neurocognitive status and socio-occupational functioning.”

—Terri Airov


Firth J, Firth JA, Stubbs B, et al. Association between muscular strength and cognition in people with major depression or bipolar disorder and healthy controls. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 April 18;[Epub ahead of print].