A new study reveals that millennials' hands are not as strong as their parents', and men's grip strength has shown the most notable decline.
The study, conducted by researchers at Winston–Salem University, measured the grip strength and pinch strength of 237 "healthy" millennials between the ages of 20 and 34 and compared the findings to similar data from 1985. The comparisons indicated that male millennials have a significantly weaker grip than their 1985 counterparts, while most women also showed a decline in strength.
The one exception was modern women ages 30 to 34, who did not have a weaker grip strength. However, 30- to 34-year-old women were among the only two groups—the other being women aged 20 to 24—whose pinch was weaker than it was in 1985. Other groups did not show a large decline in the thumb's pinch strength, which may be connected to the fact that thumbs are still used regularly for texting and gaming.
The findings appear to show that grip strength may be changing as a result of extensive technology use in modern life, as well as the increase in more sedentary jobs at the expense of physically active ones. Research has shown the strength of one's grip is affected by the kinds of daily activities one participates in; a 2015 study even showed grip strength could be a good indicator of mortality, with weaker hands being associated with a higher likelihood of death.
"Hand activity is totally different than is was in 1985," Elizabeth Fain, an author of the new study, tells Broadly. "People of all age groups, mostly, are not doing as much physical work because we're outsourcing manufacturing, and we don't have as many farms. So people are not performing as many physically demanding tasks. What's unique about millennials, though, is that while grip strength is going down, their texting and gaming uses a lot of thumb motion, so thumb pinch strength has not gone down the same way. This helps make the connection between the change and how we're doing different hand patterns."
Fain says that though it's not certain, the larger decline in men's strength is likely due to the fact that, in years past, men were doing more physical labor than women. Now, though, long-term hand health is a big concern for all genders.
"We tested individuals' thumbs and looked at if they were having any repetitive syndromes. There's something called Finkelstein's test that indicates whether someone is at risk for de Quervain's"—an inflammatory disease that causes pain in the tendons in your thumb that extend down to the wrist—"and using that, we found a high number of positives."
"We are going to need to educate computer users and the public to do stretches and exercises to prevents de Quervain's," says Fain. "What really needs to happen is that individuals who regularly use technology should stop to take breaks and do gentle tendon-gliding movements to stretch the thumb in the opposite direction of where they're constantly bending it. There are a wide variety of preventative measures. Really, people just need to take more frequent breaks."