NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Seniors who can still give a firm handshake and walk at a brisk pace are likely to live longer than those who can't, according to British researchers.
They found simple measures of physical capability were related to life span among graying heads in the community, even after accounting for age, sex and body size.
The study is the first to provide a comprehensive view of the existing research by pooling all the relevant data. It analyzed grip strength, walking speed, time to get up from a chair and ability to balance on one leg, mostly in people 70 years and older, and looked at mortality from all causes.
"These measures have been used in population-based research for quite a long time," said Rachel Cooper of the Medical Research Council, a publicly funded research organization in London. "They may be useful indicators for subsequent health."
Cooper, whose findings appear in the British Medical Journal, said more studies are needed to clarify whether the measures would be helpful to doctors as a screening tool.
"I wouldn't suggest that we roll them out into clinical practice tomorrow, but it is possible that they could be used in the future," she told Reuters Health.
The researchers examined 33 earlier datasets comprising tens of thousands of people, and included only those living "in the community" rather than in a nursing home. While lumping data from various studies together might make the results less solid, most findings pointed in the same direction.
"Those people in the general population who have higher physical capability levels are likely to live longer," Cooper said.
Those with the weakest grip, for instance, were 1.67 times as likely to die during the studies as their strongest peers. And the seniors with the slowest walking pace had nearly three times the risk of dying compared with the swiftest.
Some studies of gripping had been done in people under 60, too. While they showed the same overall pattern as in older citizens, the link wasn't as clear.
The researchers said their findings might reflect frailty and overall bodily decline, or unidentified diseases. But it is also possible that factors they didn't account for -- such as income and physical activity -- could be at play.