Hands are the key to performing a variety of daily tasks. Here’s how to keep yours strong—and stay independent longer.
That pickle jar has become your nemesis. The last time you tried to wrestle it open, it won. And your sandwich went pickleless. Such small, simple tasks depend on hand and wrist strength.
“Hands are the key to many of our daily activities,” says Cris Dobrosielski, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and owner of Monumental Results. “Hand strength provides the ability to function and be independent while performing a variety of daily tasks, from doing lawn work to using a manual can opener.”
At his San Diego training facility, Dobrosielski works with many seniors and sees how some are frustrated because they can’t perform everyday tasks. “Having stronger hands means being able to interact and play with your grandkids,” he says. “That means everything from putting together toys to lifting kids in and out of shopping carts. Strong hands give you confidence and freedom.”
Research shows grip strength can be a reliable proxy measure of functional, total-body strength and vitality. A 2015 study in The Lancet looked at populations across 17 countries and found that those with the most grip strength were more likely to live longer and less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke.
To improve your hand strength, Dobrosielski recommends the five following grip exercises. As always, safety is key. If you have an injury or condition that affects your hands, talk to your doctor about how to exercise safely.
Grip Exercise #1: Flex and Extend
Make a fist and squeeze as hard as you can, holding for two or three seconds. Open your hand and extend your fingers as long and as wide as possible, holding for five to 10 seconds. Do three sets of five to 10 reps.
Grip Exercise #2: Wrist Curls and Reverse Wrist Curls
Grab a light dumbbell (about two or three pounds) in one hand. Sit up straight in a chair, and position your wrist off the edge of your knee, palm up, while holding the dumbbell. Flex your wrist up, using only the wrist and not any other part of your arm. Pause, and return to starting position. Do three sets of 10 reps. Repeat with your other arm.
For reverse wrist curls, face your palm down. Flex the wrist upward again for three sets of 10 reps. Repeat with your other arm.
Grip Exercise #3: Seated Row
Tie a resistance band around your feet when you’re seated with legs extended and your back straight. If you can’t easily get down on the floor, sit in a chair and anchor the band higher.
Grab the two ends of the band, palms facing each other, and extend your arms forward. Pull the band straight back until your hands reach the sides of your ribs, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do so. Aim for three sets of 10 reps.
You can also do this exercise using a machine instead of resistance band. Check out this step-by-step guide and video to the seated row machine.
Grip Exercise #4: Knee Pushup
Start with your hands and knees on a mat or towel, and your feet raised off the floor. Your back should be long and flat, and your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bending your elbows, lower your entire upper body toward the floor without touching it with your chest. Pause, and push through your hands to return to starting position. Do three sets of five reps, with a goal of eventually doing three sets of 15.
Grip Exercise #5: Modified Plank
Start with your hands and knees on a mat or towel. Your back should be long and flat. Walk your feet back as far as you can, eventually balancing on your toes so it looks like you’re in the starting position for a traditional pushup. Keep your back flat, not arched or rounded. Hold for five to 10 seconds while keeping your midsection stable. Return to starting position, and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Do three sets of five to 10 seconds, working your way up to three sets of 20 seconds.
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