The size of various parts of our body is now known to provide clues about whether we’re at risk from a range of diseases, including gout, high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer.
Indeed, the length of your fingers alone has been linked to more than 40 diseases and personality traits, with the latest study in the American Journal of Human Biology showing that women with index fingers longer than their ring fingers (thought to be caused by exposure to oestrogen) tend to go through menopause later than those with longer ring fingers.
In some cases, the dimensions of certain body parts are determned by conditions in the womb or during childhood; others can be a result of lifestyle as an adult.
Here are some measurements you can take at home that could provide clues to your health.
The size of various parts of our body is now known to provide clues about whether we’re at risk from a range of diseases…
This is the length of your legs compared to the length of your torso.
HOW TO MEASURE IT: First, measure your height. Then sit down and measure your torso, from the top of your head to where your bottom meets the chair. Subtract your torso length from total height to give leg length: this then gives you the leg to body ratio (e.g., if your torso is 30in long, and legs, 40in, the leg-to-body ratio is 30:40.
THE POTENTIAL RISKS: Having relatively short legs compared to your body length may increase the risk for being overweight or having heart disease, type 2 diabetes and liver problems, according to a review last year in the International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health.
ALWAYS KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR COLLAR SIZE
HOW TO MEASURE IT: Wrap a measuring tape around your neck about an inch from where the neck meets the shoulders. The average measurement is 15 inches for a man and 13.5 inches for a woman.
THE POTENTIAL RISKS: Doctors at the Baskent University School of Medicine in Ankara, Turkey, who carried out a number of tests on men aged 40 to 60, found that those with a neck measuring more than 16.3 inches were more likely to experience impotence or erectile dysfunction.
‘This is the first study to identify an association between neck circumference and erectile dysfunction,’ said the researcher, writing in the journal Andrologia: ‘Measurement of necks may provide us with predictive information about erectile dysfunction.’
Larger necks are also associated with sleep apnoea — a condition where the muscles in the throat relax during sleep, causing a temporary halt to breathing that can occur hundreds of times a night, leading to daytime fatigue and an increased risk of heart and other health problems. A larger neck means more soft tissue, which puts greater pressure on the pharynx to restrict breathing during sleep.
WHAT’S GOING ON? Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the most common sexual problem to affect men; around half of all men aged 40 to 70 will have some degree of ED. Causes include metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. One theory is that greater neck circumference may be a marker that someone has metabolic syndrome.
Prostate and testicular cancers, as well as pre-menopausal breast cancer, endometrial cancer and colon cancer, are more likely in those with relatively long legs, say the authors from Loughborough University.
Meanwhile, those with the longest legs compared to their torsos have a 20 per cent lower risk of dementia, according to a study from King’s College London, published in the journal PLoS One.
WHAT’S GOING ON? Longer legs compared with torso length is a sign of rapid growth and good nutrition during childhood, while relatively short legs imply slower growth and negative environmental factors, including bad diet, poverty and maternal smoking in pregnancy.
When it comes to the positive benefits of longer legs, one theory is that it is a marker of good nutrition. It may also reflect an increase in brain cells, creating a greater mental ‘reserve’ more able to deal with the effects of dementia.
‘Leg length is a marker of early life nutritional programming, which may confer brain reserve and protect against neurodegeneration in later life,’ the researchers wrote in the journal PLoS One.
In addition, people with longer legs are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, U.S. Those with the shortest legs had a 20 per cent increased risk of disease. One theory is that inadequate nutrition in the first years of life may cause long-term problems that affect the body’s sensitivity to insulin (the hormone that helps mop up sugar from the blood vessels), leading to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
The circumference of the average man’s head is 58.4cm; the average woman’s is 56cm.
HOW TO MEASURE IT: Using the tape, wrap it around your head, using the most prominent part of your forehead above the brows and the widest part of the back of your head.
THE POTENTIAL RISKS: A smaller head size may be linked to an increased risk of dementia. People with relatively smaller heads were 2.1 times more likely to have dementia, according to a study involving 2,500 older people by the National University Hospital in Singapore.
A second study in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuro-psychology found that people with smaller head circumferences and low education were four times more likely to have dementia.
WHAT’S GOING ON?: One theory is that as human brains reach 93 per cent of their full size by the age of six, good brain cell development in these early years may provide a buffer for later in life. Writing in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the Singapore researchers said: ‘[a] smaller head circumference, indicating a smaller cranial volume, hinders the maturity of the brain, which affects the ability to build up a cognitive reserve that can act as a protective factor against dementia in later life’.
FINGER RATIO POINTS TO FUTURE HAIR LOSS
HOW TO MEASURE IT: Measure each finger from where it meets the palm to the tip. To get the ratio, divide the length of the index finger by the length of the ring finger. The average ratio for a man is 0.95; for a woman it is approaching one.
THE POTENTIAL RISKS: In men, a longer ring finger has been linked to high fertility, aggression, an increased risk of ADHD and depression, as well as baldness, but a lower risk of heart attack .
In women, long ring fingers are associated with a reduced risk of early breast cancer. Women with longer ring fingers are also more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the hand, according to Israeli research based on 1,500 people published in Rheumatology International.
WHAT’S GOING ON? A relatively long ring finger is a sign of exposure to higher levels of testosterone in the womb, while a relatively long index finger points to greater amounts of oestrogen. One theory is that for a short time in foetal development, there are testosterone receptors on the fingers and that the ring finger may have more of these receptors and grow faster when exposed to it.
Men with a long ring finger compared with their index finger are more likely to end up bald. In a study reported in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, men with hair loss had a ratio of 0.893, much lower than the 0.971 seen in a control group with no hair loss problems.
Male hair loss is linked to exposure to testosterone (which is also linked to longer ring fingers).
This is a comparison of waist and hip circumference.
HOW TO MEASURE IT: Calculate it by dividing your waist measurement in inches by your hip measurement. For example, someone with a 30-inch waist and 38-inch hips has a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.78.
THE POTENTIAL RISKS: According to the World Health Organisation, a healthy ratio for women is 0.85 or less, and for men, 0.9 or less. This type of ratio is associated with an apple-shaped body. ‘Apples’ — that is people with more weight around the waist — face more health risks than ‘pears’ — those who have more weight on the hips. Many studies have shown that accumulation of fat around the waist results in a more significant risk of heart diseases, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Meanwhile, the children of women who are more pear-shaped, with a low waist-to-hip ratio, have been found to perform better in intelligence tests. A drop of 0.01 in the mother’s ratio increased the child’s score in intelligence tests by 0.061 points, according to the University of California research published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.
Indeed, your waist-to-hip ratio may be a better clue to the risk of atherosclerosis, or furring up of the arteries, than weight alone, according to a study of over 400 women by Korea University. The researchers said it is because the distribution of body fat is more accurate than simple obesity in predicting the risk in postmenopausal women.
WHAT’S GOING ON?: One theory for the raised risk of type 2 diabetes for ‘apples’ is that fat cells around the waist tend to be very active, producing compounds that can damage the body’s system for regulating blood sugar levels.
The apparent brain benefits for children of pear-shaped women is thought to be due to fatty acids stored in the fat around the hips, since fatty acids are vital for the development of the brain.
In men, a longer ring finger has been linked to high fertility, aggression, an increased risk of ADHD and depression
Our final height, which we reach around the age of 20, is a visual marker of a series of events from conception to adulthood.
THE POTENTIAL RISKS: The taller a person, the greater the risk of six cancers, according to research by the world Cancer Research Fund International.
And a study by the American Cancer Society suggests a link between both height and weight and death from breast cancer.
The study, based on 424,000 post-menopausal women, of whom 3,000 developed breast cancer over a 14-year period, shows that breast cancer mortality increased with height. Women over 5ft 6in were 64 per cent more likely to die of the disease than those under 5ft.
Another study, from Brigham Women’s Hospital in Boston, U.S., shows a link between being tall and a greater prostate cancer risk. The risk of pancreatic cancer is linked to both height and weight, according to a study by the University of Oxford based on 400,000 people. The tallest had a 74 per cent greater risk of disease than the shortest.
But men over 6ft 1in were 35 per cent less likely to suffer a heart attack then men under 5ft 7in, according to a study by Harvard University, U.S.
WHAT’S GOING ON?: One theory is that the genes, nutrition and hormones we are exposed to in the womb and childhood, not only affect height, but have an impact on the growth and behaviour of all cells within the body. Whatever cocktail results in greater height, may also increase the risk of some diseases.