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Height loss and aging

You’re not as tall as you think!

I hate to break it to you, but you probably aren’t as tall as you say you are.

Women will typically lose about two inches of height between ages 30 and 70. Men usually lose about an inch by age 70, and about two inches by age 80.

Why do we lose that height as we age?

There are three main culprits:

  • Spinal disc degeneration
  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle loss

Let’s take them one at a time.

Spinal disc degeneration: Your discs are like little sponges that protect your vertebrae. Over time, injuries and genetic factors can lead to some of them degenerating. They dry out and shrink. This can happen to one or more discs over time. This leads to your spine getting shorter, making you lose height.

Osteoporosis: Your vertebrae are stacked on top of each other. Osteoporosis makes your bones less solid. Spinal bone fractures are often painless, so a person may not know it has happened. Over time, your spine begins to bow over, usually forward.

Muscle loss: We tend to lose muscle mass as we age. Our core muscles are meant to keep us upright, with good posture. As we lose muscle mass in our torsos, we begin to stoop forward, just like with osteoporosis.

So, what can you do about it?

  • To avoid spinal disc degeneration: Use good form when lifting: Keep a straight back, lift with your legs and the keep the weight close to you. It may happen anyway, as many people have spinal discs that degenerate and have no pain or symptoms.
  • To avoid osteoporosis: Do not smoke. Do not drink alcohol to excess. Eat enough protein and calcium. Get enough vitamin D. Be sure to do regular weight-bearing physical activities, like walking, aerobics, or running. Strength training also helps to build and maintain healthy bones.
  • To avoid muscle loss: Regular exercise, especially of the core muscles (in the abdomen) can keep your posture straight and healthy.

Even if you aren’t at the age where you have lost height, there is a good chance that you aren’t as tall as you claim to be.

According to research, people tend to over-report their height, and under-report their weight. This tends to make people underestimate their BMI, which is based on height and weight. It isn’t perfectly clear whether people do it on purpose, or whether it represents wishful thinking.

So if you think you might be shrinking, you very well might be. There are normal aging reasons for height loss. There are also unhealthy causes of height loss, which is one of the reasons you will have your height and weight measured at the doctor’s office when you visit. If your height loss is outside of what is normal, or if it is very rapid, talk to your doctor.