In a survey of 2,800 men and women, researchers found that risk of heart disease more than doubled for those with a thigh circumference of under 22 inches. ©

A new study has found that the thinner your thighs, the greater your risk of heart disease.

The research, published in today's edition of the British Medical Journal, reveals that thigh circumference is linked to the risk of heart disease and premature death.

The study looked at more than 2,800 men and women with an average age of around 50.

It found that the risk of heart disease more than doubled for both men and women who had a thigh circumference of less than 55 centimeters (22 inches).

Those participants with thighs between 55 and 60 centimeters (22 and 24 inches) received a protective effect against heart disease, the study reports.

But that protective effect reduced for people with thighs above 60 centimeters (24 inches) in circumference.

Associate Professor David Cameron-Smith, of Deakin University in Melbourne, said this is very powerful research.

He said a growing body of research is showing the increased risk of heart disease associated with living a sedentary lifestyle.

According to Cameron-Smith, thigh circumference is a broad indicator of physical activity and muscle mass is related to how much exercise you do. Muscles has a very strong protective effect against heart disease and diabetes, he added.

"It's been known for a long time that muscle mass and strength are important determinants of longevity and health," he said. "Even moving from no activity to some activity has a dramatic effect."

He said a surprising finding in the research is that the risk associated with thigh circumference and heart disease is almost the same for men and women.

Cameron-Smith asserted the most likely reason is because most women in the study would have been on the cusp of menopause or post-menopause, which would explain the similar results between the sexes.

After menopause, women start to display similar body morphologies as men.

Professor Tim Olds of the University of South Australia's School of Health Sciences, says the study is really interesting and solid.

Previous research he conducted found about 75 percent of men and 80 percent of women aged 18 and over have thigh girths below the 'cut-off' suggested in the paper.

Olds says the research suggests that "interventions which protect or increase muscle mass, such as weight training, may be effective in reducing cardiovascular disease even if no loss of body fat occurs."

The study's authors suggests that thigh circumference could be used in combination with other measurements, such as body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio, to assess an individual's risk of heart disease.

However, Dr. Ian Scott of the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane disagrees, saying "it seems unlikely that thigh circumference will be clinically useful."