Yes You Are Shrinking

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Have you ever noticed that people tend to shrink as they get older? This phenomenon is pretty much unavoidable, but at least we can take steps to minimize the amount of height loss over time.

On a personal note, I hit 5 feet, 5-1/2 inches at my tallest when I was 17, and remained there until I reached the age of 40. Then I noticed a loss of 1/4 inch, putting me at 5 feet, 5-1/4 inches. By the time I began competing in NPC bodybuilding events, I was at 5 feet, 5 inches. Now, at the age of 49, I stand at 5 feet, 4-1/2 inches. Though I will never be as short as my 4 foot 8 inch Japanese grandmother was, I am definitely losing height as I get older.

Numerous research studies have demonstrated that the process of shrinking stature begins as early as our 30’s, with men losing about an inch between the ages of 30 and 70, and women losing twice that amount. The shrinkage continues into our 70’s and 80’s too. There are a number of reasons why we lose height over time:

1. Cartilage which cushions the joints begins to compress and wear down, and in weight-bearing joints like the spine, hips, knees and ankles, results in a loss of stature.
2. The ratio of bone formation versus bone absorption decreases, and the bones become more weak. In women, the loss of estrogen after menopause further decreases the rate of bone formation.
3. Over time, muscle mass gradually decreases, a process known as sarcopenia. This results in a decrease in postural strength and stability.

How can we minimize the rate of shrinkage in height as we age? Here are some guidelines to follow:

– Perform weight-bearing exercise at least three days per week.
– Consume foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.
– Sit up straight!
– Quit smoking.
– Avoid excessive intake of alcohol and caffeine.
– Don’t starve yourself or practice perpetual dieting.

When you visit your primary care provider for your annual checkup, make sure that your height is measured. If you avoid regular checkups, get into the habit of checking your height once a year, either on your birthday or at the beginning of the year so that you have a standard time of year to measure it. According to numerous studies, a loss of 1 to 2 inches within a year correlates with a higher risk of hip and non-vertebral fractures, and should be investigated by a physician.

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