Fatter legs linked to lower risk of high blood pressure

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In a new study, researchers found adults with fatter legs — meaning they have a higher percentage of total body fat tissue in their legs — were less likely than those with a lower percentage to have high blood pressure.

The research was conducted by a team at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

The team examined the rate of three types of high blood pressure in relation to the percentage of fat tissue in the legs of nearly 6,000 adults.

The average age of the participants was 37, nearly half were female and 24% had high blood pressure, defined as blood pressure >130/80 mm Hg.

Special X-ray scans measured fat tissue in the legs, and these measures were compared to overall body fat tissue.

The team classified participants as having either a high or low percentage of leg fat, with high fat defined as 34% or more for males, and 39% or more for females.

Participants with higher percentages of leg fat were less likely than those with lower levels of fat to have all types of high blood pressure.

The team found compared to those with lower percentages of leg fat, participants with higher percentages of leg fat were 61% less likely to have the type of high blood pressure where both numbers are elevated.

In addition, the risk for participants with higher leg fat was 53% lower for diastolic high blood pressure (the second number in a blood pressure reading, measuring pressure between heartbeats) and 39% lower for systolic high blood pressure (the first number in a reading, measuring pressure when the heartbeats).

After adjusting for various factors, the risk for high blood pressure was still lower among participants with higher percentages of leg fat, although not as low as before adjusting for these factors.

The team says if these results are confirmed by larger, more robust studies, and in studies using easily accessible measurement methods like thigh circumference, there is the potential to affect patient care.

Just as waist circumference is used to estimate abdominal fat, thigh circumference may be a useful tool, although it’s a bit cumbersome and not as widely studied in the U.S. population.

One author of the study is Aayush Visaria, M.P.H.

The study was presented at the virtual American Heart Association’s Hypertension 2020 Scientific Sessions.

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