When you were younger, you probably noticed that your older relatives seemed to be getting shorter over the years. And it’s true. Beginning around age 40, most people will actually shrink in height from a half to a full centimeter per decade.
What causes this and can anything be done to stop it?
There are several reasons we get shorter as we age. First, our spine is composed of slices of bone, and between each bone slice is a little shock absorber: a vertebral disc, and we have 23 of them. They protect the spinal bones, and they are a jelly-like consistency comprised mostly of water.
Normally during the day when we are mostly upright, gravity squeezes the discs and they lose some water content. Then at night—without gravity and the bones compressing these natural “shock-absorbers”—the discs will re-hydrate and return to their original size. The problem is that as we age, the discs don’t re-hydrate as completely. Part of the reason is that we need good “micro-circulation” in the area of the spine to permit this nightly re-hydration of the spine, and as we age, our micro-circulation—the small blood vessels that nourish our tissues and bones—becomes less effective.
What measures can we take to maintain good micro-circulation, and allow better blood vessel nourishment of our spine? First, if you smoke, stop. Smoking basically clogs and kills off the small vessels that feed your tissues, including your spine. Second, do what you can to avoid diabetes, which is another micro-circulation inhibitor. The best way to prevent diabetes is by avoiding obesity!
The other ways to maintain good micro-circulation is to do daily aerobic exercise, even fast walking, and eat a good diet, obtaining lots of nutrients and protein, and consuming minimal garbage foods with excessive sugar and saturated fat.
The second reason for age-related shrinking is that the vertebral bones themselves can compress and even fracture over time, which leads to a curvature of the spine, and in severe cases results in a hunched-over appearance. To avoid that, the key is to try to keep your bones as strong as possible. You do that by making sure you get enough calcium in your diet, as well as adequate vitamin D. If you take any dietary supplement at all, vitamin D has to be one of the best ones for overall health. You get vitamin D from your diet and from sunlight, but many experts feel that most older folks don’t get enough, and that a daily vitamin D supplement is advisable.
Another important way to keep strong bones is to actually stress the bones (apparently to show the body that they are still needed) through weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, or weight-lifting. Try to work your legs and hips as much as you can!
The third reason people shrink is that over time is that most people give up on good posture. It can be impressive to see a person in their late 70s or 80s with great posture, standing “tall”. They stand out because they work to maintain their muscle mass. They fight the tendency of muscles to shrink by doing weight-bearing exercises and pay particular attention to their abdominal or “core” muscles. A strong abdomen will do a lot to keep you as tall as possible!
In summary, this is what you can do to fight age-related shrinking:
1. Don’t smoke, and keep your weight reasonable.
2. Eat a good balanced diet, avoiding too much sugar and saturated fats.
3. Get enough calcium and vitamin D.
4. Do aerobic exercise daily, if only 30 minutes of brisk walking.
5. Do weight bearing exercises at least three times a week. Keep your core, abdominal muscles strong! A gym, and if you can afford the luxury, a personal trainer, can be life-changing…
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