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Handshake could be measurement of health

Joyce Walter writes about an encounter with a "dead fish" handshake
Reflective Moments by Joyce Walter

The large gentleman, one of the wrestlers hired to entertain a local crowd, held out his hand and smiled.

Gingerly I offered my own much smaller hand and inwardly cringed, thinking my bones would be crushed in my attempt to be mannerly and return his friendly gesture.

What a shock to receive one of those “dead fish” handshakes from him, dead fish meaning limp-wristed and lacking even a tiny bit of pressure. But later that evening he had no trouble appearing to smack his opponent around the ring. Nothing dead fish about the contact of those hands. Maybe I was lucky not to be gripped in his large paw.

On the other hand, there was the elderly gentleman who ventured into the office one day looking for a story about his Bible crusade. After a satisfactory interview, he held out his hand in farewell and left me gasping furtively and thinking “oh my gosh, that hurt.” There was nothing limp about his shake and I remembered and felt it for quite awhile afterwards. 

I’ve since learned that limp handshakes might mean the person is shy, introverted or simply suffers from anxiety when his hand must touch the hand of a stranger. For after all, who knows what germs are on that hand or where it has been most recently. 

Or to give that person the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he had arthritis and a firm handshake would have had painful consequences for him. I know all too well how painful it is for my arthritic hand to be grasped too firmly — I would never allow Donald Trump to grip onto my hand the way he’s been known to shake the hands of others.

While the dead fish shake is unpleasant, those aggressive shakes might happen because the person wants to exert authority over the other, that being boss means gripping while the other person is not grinning so much as grimacing.

But there is another matter regarding handshakes. It seems, according to preliminary research, that folks with firm handshakes are expected to live longer, having muscle mass to help fight off diseases such as various types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and obstructive pulmonary disease, among some of them. There’s considerable research going on into handshakes as they relate to one’s health. That research has come up with the theory that someone with a less-firm handshake will be susceptible to the aforementioned illnesses.

There’s more testing of those theories to take place by scientists in Scotland before there’s any definitive announcement.

So, in the meantime, I will self-medicate by giving as firm a handshake as I can manage without crying out in arthritic pain. I will also feel some measure of sympathy for individuals who barely touch a hand to mine, let alone show any firmness.

To recap: dead fish belong in the frying pan, not attached to one’s wrist. Hopefully my wrestling friend will modify his behaviour so as to live a longer, healthier life.

Joyce Walter can be reached at 


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.