Grip strength from midlife as an indicator of later-life brain health and cognition: evidence from a British birth cohort
Abstract: Background: Grip strength is an indicator of physical function with potential predictive value for health in ageing populations. We assessed whether trends in grip strength from midlife predicted later-life brain health and cognition. Methods: 446 participants in an ongoing British birth cohort study, the National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD), had their maximum grip strength measured at ages 53, 60–64, and 69, and subsequently underwent neuroimaging as part of a neuroscience sub-study, referred to as “Insight 46”, at age 69–71. A group-based trajectory model identified latent groups of individuals in the whole NSHD cohort with below- or above-average grip strength over time, plus a reference group. Group assignment, plus standardised grip strength levels and change from midlife were each related to measures of whole-brain volume (WBV) and white matter hyperintensity volume (WMHV), plus several cognitive tests. Models were adjusted for sex, body size, head size (where appropriate), sociodemographics, and behavioural and vascular risk factors. Results: Lower grip strength from midlife was associated with smaller WBV and lower matrix reasoning scores at age 69–71, with findings consistent between analysis of individual time points and analysis of trajectory groups. There was little evidence of an association between grip strength and other cognitive test scores. Although greater declines in grip strength showed a weak association with higher WMHV at age 69–71, trends in the opposite direction were seen at individual time points with higher grip strength at ages 60–64, and 69 associated with higher WMHV. Conclusions: This study provides preliminary evidence that maximum grip strength may have value in predicting brain health. Future work should assess to what extent age-related declines in grip strength from midlife reflect concurrent changes in brain structure.