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In the long run, leggy women live longer

health and fitness Updated: May 07, 2008 01:11 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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Leggy Carla Bruni is likely to live much longer than hubby, French President Nicolas Sarkozy. So will Naomi Campbell, Gisele Bundchen and closer home, Sushmita Sen. And the seemingly tall tale is backed by scientific research.

Long legs not only perk up your social life but also protect you from killer diseases. Studies released this year show that long legs — legs longer than the torso or upper body — lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes in both sexes, with leggy women having the added advantage of lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“Researchers from the University of Bristol have reported that people with longer legs have thinner carotid artery walls, associated with decreased heart disease and stroke risk. But factors that influence leg length— such as nutrition, genetic and epigenetic influences— need further study,” says Dr Purshotam Lal, chief cardiologist at Metro Group of Hospitals.

The dementia study, done by scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and published in the journal Neurology, showed that women with longer legs had much lower risk, with every extra inch of leg reducing their risk by 16 per cent. Women with the shortest arms were 50 per cent more likely to develop the disease than those with longer arms. In men, only arm length was linked to Alzheimer’s, with every extra inch lowering risk by six per cent.

Here’s the flip side. Long-limbed women lose the health edge on the cancer front, with the International Journal of Cancer reporting in March that they had a higher risk of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer associated with sun exposure, pale complexions, and rare genetic disorders. In other studies, breast and colon cancers have been found to be more prevalent in long-legged women as well.

Several theories have been offered for the increased risk of these cancers for longer-limbed women though none have been proven. Animal studies suggest an increased risk of cancer when excess calories are consumed during adolescence, which also leads to growth spurts. It's even suggested that taller women have higher risk of cancer because they spend more time in the sun compared to short, dumpy women.

Going by the number of published papers, it seems all the hard work, time, energy and money spent on studying women's legs has paid off. Perhaps if the world's vaccine developers got similar incentives, we would have faster results.