Getting older sometimes means getting help with ketchup bottles and pickle jars that used to be easy to open. We might not be happy about it, but it’s not surprising. But did you know that the reason you struggle with jar lids can also affect your breathing? Here’s why…and what you absolutely should do about it.

Losing muscle strength and mass is a natural process of aging called sarcopenia. How much you lose depends on your health, genetics and lifestyle. Many people think of age-related muscle loss as affecting their arms, legs, torso, etc. But sarcopenia affects all the muscles in the body, including the muscles that control respiration, such as the diaphragm.

Because measuring hand strength is a proven way to infer muscle strength in the rest of the body, researchers at Yonsei University in Korea wondered whether hand  strength could predict pulmonary function—how efficiently a person’s lungs work. Early detection of impaired lung function can help avert episodic respiratory problems such as bronchitis and pneumonia and help avert cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure and early death.

Study: The researchers analyzed data from a health survey of 1,773 healthy women ages 65 to 79. The survey included physical examinations that measured handgrip strength and pulmonary function.

Results: The stronger her hands, the more likely a woman was to have a well-functioning respiratory system—and the weaker her hands, the more likely to have impaired lung function.

Although the study was small and involved only women, and the researchers did comment that research on men is  needed, other research has found that grip strength in men is associated with better overall health, including better quality of life and lower risk of dying of from heart disease.

While we can’t entirely avoid losing muscle as we age, our lifestyle can minimize the loss. Exercise, both aerobic and resistance, and a healthy diet that includes adequate protein are key. There also are things you can do to keep your lungs in top working order, such as breathing exercises, playing a harmonica or even blowing through a straw.