You may have been the tallest kid in your elementary school only to be the shortest during senior year; or have experienced a monumental growth spurt somewhere during puberty or adolescence. Either way, from the time you’re born until early adulthood, your body continues to grow taller. Your growth may ebb and flow but eventually, sometime around early adulthood, you can expect to have reached your maximum height. Then, starting in or around your 30s, you will gradually start to get shorter. Men between the ages of 30 and 70 can expect to lose up to an inch, while women can lose as much as two inches. And after age 80, both men and women can lose yet another inch. There is no doubt that people get shorter as they age, but why? Here is the long and short of why people get shorter as they age, and what you can do to prevent it.
Two Main Reasons
The two primary factors that lead to height loss have to do with our bones and muscle. They are:
- Osteoporosis. When our bones are healthy bone, they are dense from the inside, with no gaps or holes that occur over time and with wear and tear. Quite logically, the denser the bone, the stronger it is. Bones with osteoporosis start to lose density, and soon start to hollow out, resembling a honeycomb. The more dense or porous the bone, the greater the likelihood it will break or force us to start to hunch over, causing us to lose height.
- As we age, adults lose lean muscle mass and gain fat, a condition known as sarcopenia. This can lead to weakness, frailty, and a decrease in height. In fact, many doctors refer to sarcopenia as simply the “frailty disease.”
While getting a bit shorter with age is a normal and expected part of the aging process, the speed by which you lose height is a matter of concern that you – and your orthopedist – will want to know about and monitor. For example, if you lose one to two inches within a year, you may be at a higher risk for hip or spinal fractures, in addition to heart disease.
If you notice a significant change in your height over a relatively short period of time, you should consult your orthopedist. Here are some ways that you can keep you standing tall –
- Maintaining a healthy diet. Research shows that eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D – such as dairy, fruits and vegetables – can strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of osteoporosis and fractures, as well as high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers. Experts recommend that you get 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day to help prevent bone loss.
- Focusing on good posture, thereby keeping you balanced. Good posture can keep your bones strong, prevent joint pain, and prevent you from falling.
- Staying active. Exercises that force your muscles to work against gravity, such as jogging, aerobics, and weightlifting, are good ways of strengthening both bones and muscles that support good posture and help maintain normal height. If you can’t hit the gym, try taking stairs, walking, standing more instead of sitting, and lifting small objects such as cans or milk jugs.
- Reducing your alcohol intake. Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D, both essential for strong bones.
- Monitoring steroid use. Steroid medications can affect the rates by which calcium and vitamin D are absorbed into the bones; this can lead to bone loss, broken bones and osteoporosis, all of which can affect your height. If you use corticosteroids, be sure to speak with your orthopedist about any affects they may be having on your bone density.
If you are a woman in your mid-to late-40s or a man in your mid-60s or if you have had any broken bones as an adult, it’s a good idea to undergo screening for bone density. This can help identify the onset of osteoporosis or other condition that might have an adverse effect on both your health and your height.
When it comes to maintaining good bone health, Tarpon Orthopedics – West Plano, North Plano, and Addison’s sports medicine, spine, and pain specialists – can diagnose your condition and devise a treatment plan just for you. Contact us today for more information by calling (972) 596-1059 or fill out our online form to request an appointment now. We look forward to seeing you and helping you enjoy a more active, healthy lifestyle.