Background

Handgrip strength may provide an easily-administered marker of cognitive functional status. However, further population-scale research examining relationships between grip strength and cognitive performance across multiple domains is needed. Additionally, relationships between grip strength and cognitive functioning in people with schizophrenia, who frequently experience cognitive deficits, has yet to be explored.

Methods

Baseline data from the UK Biobank (2007–2010) was analyzed; including 475397 individuals from the general population, and 1162 individuals with schizophrenia. Linear mixed models and generalized linear mixed models were used to assess the relationship between grip strength and 5 cognitive domains (visual memory, reaction time, reasoning, prospective memory, and number memory), controlling for age, gender, bodyweight, education, and geographical region.

Results

In the general population, maximal grip strength was positively and significantly related to visual memory (coefficient [coeff] = −0.1601, standard error [SE] = 0.003), reaction time (coeff = −0.0346, SE = 0.0004), reasoning (coeff = 0.2304, SE = 0.0079), number memory (coeff = 0.1616, SE = 0.0092), and prospective memory (coeff = 0.3486, SE = 0.0092: all P < .001). In the schizophrenia sample, grip strength was strongly related to visual memory (coeff = −0.155, SE = 0.042, P < .001) and reaction time (coeff = −0.049, SE = 0.009, P < .001), while prospective memory approached statistical significance (coeff = 0.233, SE = 0.132, P = .078), and no statistically significant association was found with number memory and reasoning (P > .1).

Conclusions

Grip strength is significantly associated with cognitive functioning in the general population and individuals with schizophrenia, particularly for working memory and processing speed. Future research should establish directionality, examine if grip strength also predicts functional and physical health outcomes in schizophrenia, and determine whether interventions which improve muscular strength impact on cognitive and real-world functioning.

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