Published January 25, 2013
What size bra do you wear? How’s your sense of smell? Can you still fit into your college jeans?
The answers to these questions—plus other weird body clues—may be a surprising predictor of potential future health problems. According to an array of psychic-worthy research, scientists are discovering more and more physical quirks and clues that may be early signs of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Whip out a mirror and a tape measure, and use these DIY tests to forecast your health; plus, the best strategies to change your destiny.
1. Finger length
Women whose index fingers are shorter than their ring fingers may be twice as prone to osteoarthritis in the knees, found a 2008 study in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism. Those with this predominately male characteristic tend to have lower levels of estrogen, which may also play a role in the development of osteoarthritis, say researchers.
Prevent it: Strengthen the muscles surrounding your knees. While sitting, straighten each leg parallel to the floor 10 times; hold each rep for five to 10 seconds.
Women taller than 5-foot-2 may be missing a gene mutation that helps them reach their 100th birthday, according to a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Prevent it: Take a page from the habits of California’s Seventh-Day Adventists, who have one of the highest concentrations of centenarians: Quit smoking, and cut back on alcohol and eating meat.
3. Leg length
If your legs are on the stocky side, you may need to take better care of your liver. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, British researchers found that women with legs between 20 and 29 inches tended to have higher levels of four enzymes that indicate liver disease. Factors such as childhood nutrition may not only influence growth patterns, but also liver development well into adulthood, say researchers.
Prevent it: Avoid exposure to toxins your liver has to process, which will keep it healthier, longer. Wear a mask and gloves while cleaning or working with any type of harsh chemical. Limit alcohol intake to one 5-ounce glass of wine or 12-ounce bottle of beer daily.
4. Sense of smell
Older adults who couldn’t identify the scent of bananas, lemons, cinnamon, or other items were five times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease within four years, according to a 2008 study in the Annals of Neurology. The researchers believe that the area of the brain responsible for olfactory function may be one of the first impacted by Parkinson’s disease—somewhere between 2 and 7 years prior to diagnosis.
Prevent it: Take fish oil supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids can boost your brain’s resistance to MPTP, a toxic compound responsible for Parkinson’s.
5. Arm length
Have a hard time reaching the top of your kitchen cabinets? Women with the shortest arm spans were 1 1/2 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with longer reaches, found a 2008 study in the journal Neurology. (Find yours by spreading your arms parallel to the floor and having someone measure fingertips to fingertips; the shortest spans were less than 60 inches.) Nutritional or other deficits during the critical growing years, possibly responsible for shorter arms, may also predispose a person to cognitive decline later in life, say Tufts University researchers.
Prevent it: Put your appendages to good use with a hobby such as painting or pottery. A 5-year study from the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center found that adults who spent the most time engaged in engaging leisure activities were more than 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who spent less time challenging their brains.
6. Earlobe crease
Multiple studies show that linear wrinkles in one or both lobes may predict future cardiovascular events (heart attack, bypass surgery, or cardiac death.) A crease on one lobe raises the risk by 33 percent; a crease on both lobes increases it by 77 percent, even after adjusting for other known risk factors, found a study in The American Journal of Medicine. Though experts aren’t exactly sure, they suspect a loss of elastic fibers may cause both the crease and the hardening of arteries.
Prevent it: Keep your heart healthy in other ways: Slim down, and lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. Get more advice from cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD.
7. Jean size
Adults who have larger abdomens in their 40s are up to 3.6 times as likely to develop dementia in their 70s, even if they weren’t overweight, according to a 2008 study published in the journal Neurology. One possible reason for the link is that compared with subcutaneous fat (the noticeable fat that lies just below the skin), visceral fat (the dangerous fat that surrounds the organs) secretes more of the inflammatory hormones that are associated with cognitive decline.
Prevent it: Eat a portion-controlled Mediterranean-style diet. Research shows that the monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in foods such as olives, nuts, seeds, avocado, and dark chocolate prevent the accumulation of visceral fat. Flatten your belly fast with these MUFA-containing 28 meals.
8. Bra size
A D cup may also spell diabetes: Women who wore a bra size D or larger at age 20 were 1.5 times more likely to develop type 2 than those who wore an A or smaller, even after researchers adjusted for obesity, diet, smoking, and family history, in a 10-year study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It may be that the fat tissue in a woman’s breast is hormonally sensitive and influences insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes, say researchers.
Prevent it: Incorporate high-intensity intervals into your exercise routine. In one study, adults who did six 30-second sprints on an exercise bike (resting four minutes in between) improved their body's ability to metabolize blood sugar by nearly 25 percent after six sessions—enough to lower their risk of diabetes. For more ways to avoid diabetes, read this.
9. Calf size
Though it sounds counterintuitive, a 2009 French study in the journal Stroke found that women with small calves (13 inches or less around) tended to develop more carotid plaques, a known risk factor for stroke. The subcutaneous fat in larger calves may pull fatty acids from the bloodstream and store them where they are less of a risk factor, say researchers.
Prevent it: No need to bulk up your gams, but sip green tea to stay heart healthy. In a study of more than 40,500 Japanese men and women, those who drank five or more cups of green tea every day had the lowest risk of dying of heart disease and stroke.
10. Blood type
People with type A, B, or AB were 44 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those with type O, according to a recent study of 107,503 adults by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Harvard Medical School. This may indicate that the gene that determines blood type may also carry a genetic risk for pancreatic cancer.
Prevent it: Take a vitamin D supplement. Adults who consumed 300 IU or more daily reduced their pancreatic cancer risk up to 44 percent, compared with those who consumed less than 150 IU daily in a 2006 study. Fortified low-fat dairy and fish like salmon are the best ways to get D from food.