Legs — they help you get around, and they could even make you more attractive to the opposite sex. But that’s not all your legs do. They can also give you vital information about your health. For example, long legs may be a sign of fertility in women, since they tend to indicate good nutrition in childhood.
You can find clues about your risk of certain health conditions, like liver disease, coronary artery disease, or Type 2 diabetes in such things as the length or width of your legs. Painful or swollen legs are also a bad sign. Read on to learn more about how your legs could be signaling health problems to come — or problems that are already upon you.
According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, leg length may be an indicator of liver disease risk. Researchers involved in the study found that women whose legs are between 20 and 29 inches long had higher levels of four enzymes associated with liver disease: alanine animotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT), and aspartate transaminase (AST). The researchers believe that some of the same childhood influences that affect growth of the legs could also have an influence on adult liver health, especially since the liver continues to develop even into the adult years.
Type 2 Diabetes
Short legs may also indicate an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. In a study published in 2006, people with shorter, fatter legs were found to be at a 20 percent higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Researchers were clear that it’s not just being short that raises your diabetes risk, but having a low leg-to-height ratio. So, if you have a long waist but proportionally short legs, you could still be at risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Coronary Artery Disease and Stroke
If you’re a woman with small calves, you may need drugs like Plavix to prevent stroke sometime during your life. That’s according to the results of a 2009 French study, published in the journal Stroke, which found that women with a calf diameter of 13 inches or less were more likely to develop carotid plaques. These plaques, which narrow the carotid artery in the neck, can significantly increase your risk of having a stroke. The researchers believe that subcutaneous fat in women with larger calves leaches fatty acids from the bloodstream before they pile up on the walls of the carotid artery.
If you’re a man with a long torso and proportionally short legs, you may have an increased risk of coronary artery disease, according to a 2001 study. Researchers in the study found that a man suffers a 10 percent increase in coronary heart disease risk for every half-inch shorter his legs are when compared to those of men with legs proportional for their upper bodies. To determine whether your legs are too short for your torso, measure the distance between your lowest rib and the top of your hip bone. If you have a long torso, that measurement will be four inches or more. Then, measure the length of your leg from hip to knee and from knee to ankle. If your leg is too short, the distance from knee to ankle will be shorter than that of the distance from knee to hip.
What your legs have to tell you about your heart and vascular health may not be all bad news. If you have larger thighs, you may actually live longer than someone with stick-thin thighs. A 2009 study found that a thigh circumference of 24.4 inches is ideal, and can protect against heart disease and other causes of premature death in both women and man. The researchers found that these benefits did not increase for people with larger thighs — but they did decrease sharply for those with smaller thighs. Researchers theorize that the extra muscle tissue in larger thighs helps reduce inflammation and regulate insulin.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Muscle pain in the legs that begins with exercise and stops when you rest could be a sign of peripheral artery disease. It can occur in one or more muscle groups, including the thighs, buttocks, hips, feet, or, most often, in the calves. Other symptoms of peripheral artery disease include:
- Cool skin on the legs
- Poor healing of wounds or sores on the legs
- Loss of leg hair
- Shiny skin on the legs
- Faint pulse in the feet
Peripheral artery disease is a sign of atherosclerosis, and could have serious complications, including tissue death requiring amputation.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms inside a large vein, often in the calf or thigh. If such a clot is dislodged, it can travel to the lungs or brain, causing a stroke or pulmonary embolism. A DVT in the leg can cause redness, tenderness, and swelling of the leg. The pain may feel like a muscle cramp, or it may register as soreness. Rarely, symptoms can appear in both legs. If you think you have developed DVT, seek emergency medical attention.
Your legs can tell you volumes about what’s going on with your health. Learn to read the health messages your legs are sending, and take them seriously.