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Two very different interpretations of our dwindling grip strength
When she was a practicing occupational therapist, Elizabeth Fain started noticing something odd in her clinic: Her patients were weak. More specifically, their grip strengths, recorded via a hand-held dynamometer, were “not anywhere close to the norms” that had been established back in the 1980s.

Fain knew that physical activity levels and hand-use patterns had changed a lot since then. Jobs had become increasingly automated, the professional and service sectors had grown, all sorts of measures of physical activity (like the likelihood that a child walks to school) had declined, and the personal computer age had dawned. But to see the numbers decline so steeply and quickly was still a surprise, and not just to her.

A bit later in the article:

"Witness, for example, the palmaris longus, the tendon that connects your forearm to your palm (and which becomes visible, in many people, when you flex your palm upward). The muscle, according to one hypothesis, was once important for tasks like brachiation, but has been slowly declining in humans. In some cultures some 63 percent of people no longer have it. As one group of researchers notes, “if human evolution continues along similar lines wherein the muscle belly [the sum of all the muscle fibers] continues to phylogenetically reduce, it is expected that this muscle will eventually not be found in humans.”15

This inverse correlation between grip strength and civilization has been both celebrated and debated over the centuries. Jean-Jacques Rousseau saw in civilization a weakening of “all the vigor of which the human species was capable.” The French explorer François Perón, intent on discrediting Rousseau’s argument, brought an early Régnier dynamometer to Tasmania to test the strength of “savage man” against his own sailors. The more “savage” the people, Peron reported, contra Rousseau, the weaker they were. He took his grip strength tests as conclusive proof against the then-fashionable argument “that the physical degeneration of man follows the perfection of civilization.”

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