The Tennis Ball Exercise That Can Check Your Grip Strength (And Your Longevity)

Some people might remember the opening credits for the 1970s show "Bionic Woman," where Jaime Sommers squeezes a tennis ball so hard that she busts it. You might not be able to squeeze a tennis ball that hard, but it shows something about your grip strength.

Consider how hard it is to open that jar of peanut butter. It requires a lot of grip strength, and this grip strength can be a marker of how quickly you're aging. According to a 2019 review in Clinical Interventions in Aging, grip strength might point to your overall strength, unless you have a job that requires frequently opening jars. Grip strength might be an early indicator of your bone density or any malnutrition issues. Research has also shown links between grip strength and cognitive function.

Grip strength might also be associated with your longevity, per a 2018 meta-analysis in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. A stronger grip can reduce your risk of early death by 31%. To improve your grip strength, find an old tennis ball and perform this simple exercise.

Strengthen your grip with the tennis ball squeeze

The tennis ball squeeze is just that — squeeze the tennis ball in one hand for up to 15 seconds. Be sure all five fingers are fully engaged, noticing if there's any tension in your knuckles. You'll probably feel tension in your forearms, and your biceps might share in some of the work if your elbow is bent. Repeat with the other arm, and do three sets a day.

If you don't have a tennis ball nearby, grab a towel, literally. The towel grab can also strengthen your forearms and grip. Rather than close your fist around the towel, grab it lengthwise and wring it with each hand twisting in opposite directions. Be sure to change the twisting motion of each hand with each wring. Continue this wringing motion up to five times.

Reverse wrist curls can also help improve your grip strength, but you'll need a light dumbbell or soup can. Sit down and lean slightly forward with your elbows just below your shoulders to help brace you. Hold the dumbbell or soup can with your palm facing down. Flex the wrist by curling your fingers down, then extend the wrist (and weight) by moving the palm so it faces away from you. Move slowly so you can improve your strength and range of motion. Complete 10 to 15 repetitions for three sets.

Why grip strength is important at any age

While grip strength can be an indicator of overall health as you age, working on your grip strength can help you build overall strength at the gym. Pull-ups and dead hangs can stretch and strengthen your back and shoulder muscles, but you also need a strong grip to bear your weight on the bar. Forearm and grip strength help hold your plank pose in yoga, so you can build core stability.

Grip strength makes your everyday activities a little easier. A strong grip helps you carry groceries or pick up a gallon of milk. Even small activities like buttoning a shirt, turning a stubborn doorknob, or fastening a piece of jewelry require a strong but subtle grip. Sometimes you need a strong pinch grip to tear open an Amazon package or a bag of potato chips (do this with your fingers to improve your pinch grip). Finding exercises that improve your ability to grip, pinch, and crush objects can sustain your quality of life now and as you get older.