In this article, we delve into the fascinating realm of human physiology and aging, seeking to unravel the mysteries behind why and when our stature begins to diminish.
When will we start shrinking?
We all know that after the age of 20, height growth almost stops as ossification seems to take place around this age. Not so well-known is that later on, we will not solely stop “growing taller,” but we tend to “shrink” as well.
There is no specific study determining the exact age when people start shrinking. Scientists simply claim that we may become shorter when reaching middle age (around the age of 40) and perimenopausal women are at higher risk .
Why do we get shorter as we age?
During middle age and later, people tend to go through a decrease of at least some centimeters in height, compared with the height during adolescence. The unexpected fact stems from the following cases.
Osteoporosis is one of the most common diseases worldwide and it raises a lot of health concerns. According to statistics from The World Health Organization, there are more than 50 million cases reported of bone fracture linked to osteoporosis, resulting in over 600 billion dollars loss each year.
Osteoporosis is a leading cause of human shrinkage.
When people reach middle age, the body seems to reduce its ability to absorb certain minerals, such as Calcium, Iron, and Zinc. This is one of the reasons causing bones to be brittle and weak. Additionally, the spinal column plays a role in holding the body erect. As the spinal bones bear the whole body’s weight, bones will shrink gradually and so, people will get shorter or less.
Perimenopausal women (around the age of 50) are at higher risk of getting shorter due to osteoporosis. During this period, estrogen levels often fall significantly, causing the bones to become weak and lose density. In fact, within the first 5 years after menopause, some women may lose up to 25% of their bone mass. For women suffering from serious bone loss, they may get 5cm shorter as they age .
Osteoporosis causes women to lose bones and get 5cm shorter as they age.
The human spine is a long column made up of 26 vertebrae, in which two adjacent vertebrae are linked by an intervertebral disc.
These discs, as previously mentioned, lose water content and thin out over time. This natural aging process can make the outer layer of the disc more vulnerable to injury or damage.
When a disc herniates, the inner gel-like material inside the disc can push through a tear or rupture in the outer layer. This can lead to compression or irritation of nearby spinal nerves, causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the affected area. While herniated discs can occur at any age, they are more prevalent in older adults due to the cumulative effects of wear and tear on the spinal discs.
Treatment for herniated discs may include rest, physical therapy, medication, or in severe cases, surgery. Understanding the relationship between the aging spine and disc herniation underscores the importance of maintaining good spinal health through proper posture, regular exercise, and seeking medical attention when experiencing symptoms associated with disc issues.
Physical inactivity also leads to poor muscle strength while frames of bones get loose and atrophied from time to time. As the spinal bones shrink, they cannot hold the spine in place. What’s more, the body weight puts pressure on the spine, making it crooked, and then the whole body shrinks remarkably.
To maintain a certain height as aging, everyone should create a plan from now on. We should choose calcium-rich foods along with essential nutrients to support bone growth later on. In addition, remember that jogging, running, aerobic exercises, and regular physical activities are crucial to prevent shrinkage and osteoporosis.
How to not get shorter as we age?
Maintaining your height as you age can be influenced by several factors, and while you can't entirely prevent the natural processes of aging, there are steps you can take to minimize height loss and support good spinal health:
Exercise regularly: Engaging in weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, or resistance training, can help keep bones and muscles strong, which in turn can support better posture and spinal health.
Eat a balanced diet: A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is essential for bone health. Dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods can help maintain bone density.
Stay hydrated: Proper hydration is essential for maintaining the water content in your intervertebral discs, which can help preserve spinal health.
Practice good posture: Pay attention to your posture when sitting and standing. Use ergonomically designed furniture and maintain a neutral spine position to reduce the risk of developing poor posture.
Avoid smoking: Smoking has been linked to reduced bone density and increased risk of osteoporosis, which can contribute to height loss. Quitting smoking can help mitigate these risks.
Manage your weight: Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the load on your spine and lessen the risk of developing a hunched or stooped posture.
Regular check-ups: Visit your healthcare provider regularly for check-ups. They can assess your spinal health and guide you on maintaining good posture and overall health.
Stay active mentally: Engaging in activities that challenge your mind, such as puzzles, reading, or learning new skills, can help maintain cognitive function and overall well-being.
As we age, our bones and spine change. The discs in our spine can lose water and squish down a bit. Sometimes, we develop a bit of a hunch in our back, too. All of these things make us appear shorter. This process usually starts when we're in our 60s or older, but it can vary from person to person. Some folks might notice it earlier, while others later. Remember, it's all part of growing older, and while we can't stop it completely, we can take good care of our bodies with healthy habits and good posture to make the journey a little smoother.