Hand strength and flexibility over 40

How do you open pickle jars? Run them under hot water, bang the lid against a counter top, get one of those rubber grippy things, or just give up and ask for help from someone with greater hand strength?

As we age, many of us lose strength and flexibility in our wrists and hands, and the effects on our quality of life can go far beyond going without pickle slices on our sandwich. A good grip helps us do delicate tasks (buttoning a shirt) more smoothly and vigorous tasks (gardening) more easily.

So, how do you build hand strength?

Well, don’t go grab your golden retriever’s tennis ball and start squeezing. First, ew. Second, if you already have certain repetitive-motion conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, you may be doing more harm than good. If you currently suffer pain and inflammation, talk with a doctor or physical therapist about the right exercises to build strength without increasing irritation.

According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch’s August 2016 publication, hand strength can be preserved by doing the right exercises. Exercises break down into three types:

  1. Strengthening. You can use light weights or just employ gravity, but the idea is to start small and slow and build gradually. While many of these exercises are designed for people who already suffer pain and stiffness, they’re also good preventative measures.
  2. Range-of-motion. Desert Hand Therapy notes that while many of us exercise our cardiovascular systems, lift for better arms, and so on, few of us take the time to exercise those vital appendages, our hands. They offer their favorite hand exercises to keep hands nimble and lessen any pain you may already feel.
  3. Stretching. Spending all day clicking away on a keyboard can actually shorten muscles (yuck), so stretching those muscles may help you avoid that and the pain that can come with it. Remember, stretch gently—not to the point of pain. Keep stretches slow and smooth, hold the stretch for several seconds, then release gently. These hand stretches from Refinery29 can help prevent carpal tunnel and generally keep things looser.

Note: hand and wrist issues are not limited to people who work on computers or to gamers. Pretty much everyone loses hand strength over time, and that can lead to injury. If you have pain, weakness, or numbness in hands, fingers, or wrists now, consult with your doctor before taking on any new exercise regimen.

If you’re not suffering pain or loss of strength, that’s great—protect your good health by adding some gentle exercises and stretches to your workout routine.

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