Obesity or excess body weight is usually seen as a negative from a health standpoint. After all, obesity is the fifth leading risk for global death, the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) says.
However, a little extra weight in some places might not actually be a bad thing for your physical well-being.
According to a new study out of Rutgers North American Disease Intervention, people with more leg fat are less likely to have high blood pressure.
The study, which was presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension 2020 Scientific Sessions on Sept. 10, examined three types of high blood pressure in nearly 6,000 adults.
They looked for diastolic high blood pressure, when the bottom number on a blood pressure reading is high; systolic high blood pressure, when the top number on the reading is high; or combined, when both numbers are high.
Using special X-ray scans to measure fat tissue in participants’ legs, the researchers found that people with higher percentages of leg fat were 61 percent less likely to have combined high blood pressure than those with lower percentages of leg fat.
Participants with more leg fat were also less likely to have diastolic high blood pressure or systolic high blood pressure, but at lower percentages—53 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
“Although we know confidently that fat around your waist is detrimental to health, the same cannot be said for leg fat,” Aayush Visaria, MPH, principal investigator for the study, said in a statement.
“If you have fat around your legs, it is more than likely not a bad thing and may even be protecting you from hypertension, according to our findings.”
According to Heathline, normal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic. But once you reach 130 systolic and 81 diastolic, you enter stage 1 hypertension. And if your blood pressure is higher than 180 systolic and 120 diastolic, you are categorized as having a hypertensive crisis.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in a myriad of health problems, including heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease or failure, vision loss, sexual dysfunction, angina, and peripheral artery disease, according to the American Heart Association.
All of the participants in the Rutgers study were below the age of 60, so researchers are currently unsure if the results would apply to older adults, who typically are at greater risk for high blood pressure.
But even after adjusting for other factors that could affect the results—such as sex, race and ethnicity, education, smoking, alcohol use, cholesterol levels, and waist fat—the researchers found that the risk of high blood pressure was still lower in those with more leg fat.
“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,”