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What your handshake says about your health

Nick Koudis / Getty Images stock

By Molly Raisch
Prevention

If you want to know what your risk of dementia and stroke will be down the line, new research finds that surprisingly simple tests today could give you the answer. 

The handshake test
How’s your grip? Not only is a firm handshake a sign of confidence, but doctors say it may be a barometer of your health, too. Researchers followed nearly 2,500 men and women for more than a decade, according to new research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 64th Annual Meeting, and linked the risk of dementia and stroke to how strong their handshakes were at the beginning of the study. Having a stronger grip was associated with a 42 percent lower risk of stroke in people over age 65 compared with other study participants with flimsier grasps.

What’s the connection? “Vascular problems in the brain manifest themselves in a wide variety of ways,” says study author Erica Camargo, MD, of the Boston Medical Center. The suspicion is that if your grip is particularly weak, it could be a sign that your overall cardiovascular health isn’t in the best shape, she says. 

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The walking report
Are you a speed demon or more of a stroller? If people think you're a New Yorker simply by the speed of your stride, you're in luck. The same study found that those who walked at a brisk clip had a much lower risk of developing dementia than their tortoise-paced counterparts. Those with a slower walking speed in middle age were one and a half times more likely to develop dementia.

“Walking speed can be a great test of general frailty, and since walking is not exactly simple (you have to look where you’re going and plan ahead) the time it takes you to process this information can be a measurement of how damaged the brain is,” says Dr. Camargo. 

Sneaky Stroke Symptoms

The sleeping quiz
Snooze with one eye open? You could be at risk for memory problems later on. According to a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, people who wake up more than five times per hour are more likely to have amyloid plaque build up in their brain, which is thought to be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Even if you think you get in a full eight hours every night, don’t be so sure: Although most study participants were physically in bed for eight hours, the average amount of sleep people actually got was closer to six and a half hours—and 25 percent of the participants had evidence of amyloid plaques. 

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