…because those bits of your body that you’re not so proud of might be doing you a favour when it comes to your health.
About 80 per cent of Australian women are unhappy with the way they look and most of those women know other women who are also unhappy with their bodies, according to University of Queensland body image researcher Renee Fletcher.
“But beauty doesn’t come in one size and very few women look like the very thin ideal portrayed in the media,” says Fletcher. “We need to learn to love our body and what it does, and to accept the parts of our body we may not be happy with.
“Maybe you aren’t happy with the size of your thighs, but few women have the thin thighs of models. Focus on health instead.” And some features of your body that you dislike may actually be better for you than the model alternative.
Research at the University of Iowa found that big noses reduce the risk of colds. The study found that people with big noses breathe in 6.5 per cent fewer particles, such as cold bacteria, than people with smaller noses.
Consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon Dr Nigel Biggs says people with smaller noses have narrower airways, can have more difficulty breathing and suffer a blocked nose more easily, too. “A larger nose has better airways. Someone with a smaller nose is more likely to find that the soft cartilage collapses in their nose if they breathe in hard and that impacts on breathing ability,” he says.
An international study has shown a strong link between the size of a woman’s hips and her daughter’s risk of breast cancer. The study found breast cancer rates were three times higher in women whose mothers had hips measuring more than 30cm between the tops of the hip bones.
“Wide, round hips represent markers of high sex hormone concentrations in the mother, which increase her daughter’s vulnerability to breast cancer,” says Professor David Barker from the University of Southampton in the UK.
Professor Ian Olver, chief executive of the Cancer Council Australia, says the research is interesting but women can’t control the size of their mothers’ hips. However, they can control whether they lead a healthy lifestyle to help reduce their breast cancer risk. “Focus on what you can do something about – take part in breast screening programs, know your breasts and get any breast changes checked promptly,” he says.
Big bottom and cankles
If you have a generous bottom or chunky ankles – or cankles – but a flat stomach, be grateful.
It’s better to have excess body fat around your bum or your ankles and calves than your gut. A 2010 study from Boston University has linked excess belly fat – or visceral fat – to an increased risk of dementia. “The greater the amount of visceral fat, the smaller the brain. Smaller brain volume is associated with poor cognitive function and a greater risk of dementia,” says Dr Sudha.
Seshadri, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine. Professor Paul O’Brien, director of the Centre for Obesity Research and Education at Monash University, agrees that belly fat is a greater risk than surface or subcutaneous fat around the hips, bottoms and thighs. The ankles are also believed to be a lower risk area for excess fat.
“Even if you are within a healthy weight range, if you carry weight around your abdomen, you’re at risk,” says O’Brien. “This fat raises bad cholesterol levels, inflames cells in the body and creates inflammation in the walls of the arteries and fat deposits. This can eventually block the artery and you get a thrombosis or clot that leads to most strokes and heart attacks.”
Men and women with thighs less than 60cm wide are at greater risk of heart disease. Almost 3000 people took part in a study at Copenhagen University Hospital, and researchers found that people with small thighs were at greater risk of heart disease and premature death.
They suggest this may be due to ‘too little muscle mass’ in that area and, in turn, this can be linked to low insulin sensitivity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
O’Brien says we need to focus on a balanced diet and regular exercise to reduce body fat generally, “Eat less and do more. People would love to get away from that simple equation but it’s the best way to get rid of unwanted fat,” he says.
A study at the University of Chicago found that short leg bones could mean thicker leg bones, which are less prone to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis affects about two million men and women in Australia. Professor Peter Ebeling, medical director of Osteoporosis Australia, says a shorter, thicker leg bone would be stronger than a longer, thinner one.
“If the length of a leg bone is reduced and the diameter is increased that bone would be stronger,” says Ebeling. “But people should focus on building up a good bone bank in their youth through doing weight-bearing exercise four to five times a week for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. And throughout life you can maintain that bone bank through regular weight bearing exercise, such as walking, and playing golf and tennis.
“Ensure you have adequate calcium intake and adequate vitamin D levels, too.” The best source of vitamin D is spending six to eight minutes in the sun about four to six times a week.
You might not like your moles, but they may mean you won’t show your age as quickly as your mole-free friends. A study at King’s College London looked at the skin and telomere length of more than 1800 twins and found people with a high number of moles have longer telomeres. Telomeres are bundles of DNA at the end of chromosomes in all cells.
They help protect the chromosome ends and have been compared to the protective plastic tips on
shoelaces. Telomeres get shorter as we age and this is linked to the ageing of organs such as the heart, muscle, bones and arteries.
The London research found that people with more than 100 moles have longer telomeres than people with fewer moles – and this may, therefore, delay ageing by about six to seven years. “The results of this study are very exciting” says lead researcher Dr Veronique Bataille, “as they show, for the first time, that moley people who have a slightly increased risk of melanoma may, on the other hand, have the benefit of a reduced rate of ageing. This could imply susceptibility to fewer age-related diseases such as heart disease or osteoporosis,” she explains.
If you long for Jessica Rabbit-style breasts, think again, because smaller breasted women are less likely to suffer back, neck and shoulder pain.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons says women with size DD breasts or larger suffer regular neck, shoulder and lower back pain.
Dr Simon Floreani, national president of the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia, says that larger breasts not only place pressure on the back, neck and shoulders, but women can also tend to become round shouldered and self-conscious.
“The extra weight of the breast tissue pulls down on the neck and shoulders and they sometimes fold themselves forwards and hunch, which affects the lower back and their breathing as it squashes the diaphragm,” says Floreani.
“If you have larger breasts, ensure you are fitted with a supportive bra, choose an appropriate sports bra when you exercise and maybe choose sports that aren’t high impact, and focus on your posture and staying upright.”
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