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Why opening a jar of pickles is a legitimate test of health

Posted August 30

On his late-night TV show, ABC host Jimmy Kimmel asked Hillary Clinton to open a jar of pickles. She did, to applause, passing a legitimate test of health you can try at home.

Grip strength is an indicator of overall health, researchers say. Some suspect it corresponds with improved function of blood vessels, and can be a reliable predictor of future heart disease and stroke. AARP the magazine counts the ability to open a jar one of "five health tests that can save your life."

In one study, Men's Health magazine reported last year, Canadian researchers kept tabs on nearly 140,000 adults from 17 countries for four years. They measured the grip strength of participants at both the beginning and end of the study.

"The results: For every 5-kilogram (about 11 pounds) decrease in grip strength after the initial measurement, participants’ risk of death increased by 16 percent. Their risk of cardiovascular mortality also jumped by 17 percent, as did their risk of stroke by 9 percent," Lisa Freedman wrote for Men's Health.

In that study, grip strength turned out to be a better predictor of mortality than systolic blood pressure, the researchers said.

In another study, this one of more than 500 85-year-olds in The Netherlands in 2010, poor grip strength was associated with cognitive decline.

The lead author of the Canadian study told Nicholas Bakalar of The New York Times that it's unclear whether people can live longer if they strengthen their hands through training, but the results may give people incentive to incorporate resistance training in their fitness routines.

“As physicians, we recommend exercising most days a week, and this sort of study says we should be including resistance training as part of it," Dr. Darryl Leong, an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, said.

Yes, this means we should be exercising our hands.

"Having general health in your hands is important," Ethan Reeve, assistant athletic director of sports performance at Wake Forest University," told Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of The Washington Post. "Extension is just as important as flexion in the fingers, so you need to build the muscle on the top side of your hand and those on the other side.”

You can build strength with difficult exercises, such as hanging from a bar at your children's playground, but there are easier ways, too, such as an exercise Reeve recommends: plunging your hand into a bowl of rice or sand, then flexing your fingers.

Another exercise Douglas-Gabriel shared: "Place your hand on top of a sheet of newspaper, pulling the paper in with your fingertips until you roll the paper into a ball."

Kimmel, who assured viewers that he had not loosened the jar lid before Clinton, 68, opened it during a live broadcast, administered the test as part of a discussion on the Democratic presidential candidate's health.

Clinton's opponents have charged that she is not healthy enough to be president, citing a concussion, blood clots and a propensity to be supported by pillows during interviews.

More is known of her health than that of her opponent, Republican Donald Trump, however, according to Dylan Scott of STAT News.

Clinton's blood pressure is 100/65, her cholesterol is 195 and her heart rate is 72, and she takes a blood thinner and medication for hypothyroidism, according to records released in 2015.

Two years older than Clinton, Trump takes an 81-mg aspirin daily, as well as cholesterol medication, and has blood pressure of 110/65. He has never used alcohol or tobacco, according to his physician, who pronounced the candidate's lab results "astonishingly excellent."

EMAIL: jgraham@deseretnews.com

TWITTER: @grahamtoday

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