Researchers say they have discovered a surprisingly easy way to tell which patients are likely to have a heart attack or stroke down the line. This prediction is based on the strength of a person’s grip, says findings from a recent study published in the Lancet, a medical journal, and reported by NBC News.

For four years, the study followed nearly 140,000 people from 17 different countries between ages 35 and 70. (Participants were taking part in a larger study about health outcomes in the city versus the countryside.)

After evaluating the data, researchers found that for every 10 pounds of grip strength individuals lost, participants had a 17 percent higher risk of death from heart attack or stroke. What’s more, these study participants were also 7 percent more likely to have a non-fatal heart attack.

In addition, researchers found that grip strength was statistically a better predictor of death from cardiovascular illnesses than blood pressure, even when they accounted for the participants’ age, level of physical activity and other lifestyle factors.

In general, study authors believed the link was strong enough that a simple grip test could actually be the cheapest, quickest way to filter out which patients need the most heart health care. “This study really strengthens the case for using grip strength as a marker,” said Bob McLean, DSc, MPH, an assistant scientist at Harvard’s Institute for Aging Research, who commented on the study.

Still, scientists aren’t clear on how grip strength translates into the likelihood of suffering heart disease or stroke. The American Heart Association cautioned that a lot more studying must be done before doctors include measuring grip strength in routine clinical practice.

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