Give them a once-over. From a weak grip to long fingers and rashes to nail problems, your mitts are sending you important messages about your health, including your risk of disease and the length of your life. Here’s how to listen.
Stronger grip, stronger heart
Your handshake is about more than your personality. Better grip strength is indicative of your circulatory health, reports a 2018 study in PLOS ONE. A stronger shake was associated with heart functioning and less heart “remodeling,” a process that happens when the heart is stressed.
Weaker grip, shorter life
In a study on more than a half million men and women in mid-life, those who had a limp grip had a 20 percent higher risk of death from heart and respiratory diseases and cancer, reported U.K. research in the journal BMJ. Hand strength may be a marker of muscle tone in your limbs and even be associated with your overall nutrition, the researchers say.
Better grip, better brain
The links between hand strength and your health continue: It may also reveal your cognitive abilities. In a 2018 study, people who had a more solid grip also had a more robust working memory and could problem-solve faster.
Enlarged fingertips may be a respiratory disease
Abnormal growth in your fingertips should put you on alert. It’s called “nail clubbing.” “This is an increase in the tissue around the ends of the fingers where the nail curves,” explains New York dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, author of Skin Rules. The cause? Low oxygen in the blood, something that may indicate lung disease, she says.
Nail biting may point to OCD
It may be more than just a bad habit. If your nails are bitten down to the stubs (and even bleeding), you may need to seek professional help. Biting your nails may feel uncontrollable, and it may be one symptom on the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorders. Treatments can range from applying a bitter-tasting compound onto nails to break the urge to psychiatric medications, says Dr. Jaliman.
Colour changing nails may be a thyroid condition
If nails look like they’re lifting up from the nail bed and are turning a colour you know they shouldn’t—white, green, or yellow—talk to your doctor. Called onycholysis, it may be due to a recent bacterial or fungal nail infection, or it could signal an underlying health issue such as thyroid disease, says Dr. Jaliman.