ONCE YOU BECOME an adult, you typically reach your full height. That’s a number that comes up regularly in your life, whether it’s at the doctor’s office or while shopping for a pair of pants. But your height can change with age, and it’s no myth — you shrink with time.
Age-related height loss is a typical part of getting older. People usually lose about a centimeter in height every 10 years after age 40, and that pace of height loss speeds up after age 70. Overall, you can lose between 1 to 3 inches in height as you age.
While age-related height loss is normal, there are times when it’s a sign of an underlying health condition. Below are what you need to know about getting shorter as you age, as well as when it becomes a potential issue.
On a macro level, you get shorter as you age due to changes in the bones, muscles and joints. There are a few different things going on here. One is that the discs between the vertebrae in your spine lose fluid as you get older. They become dehydrated and, with that, they lose height — and you lose a bit of height.
Abdominal muscles also tend to weaken over time, which can create a stooped posture, causing you to appear shorter.
But height loss can also be due to osteoporosis, a bone disease that develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decreases, or when the quality or structure of bone changes. That can decrease your bone strength and increase your risk of fractures.
How can you know what’s behind your shrinking size? Your doctor should keep track of your height at your routine well visits, and that measurement could indicate a red flag. The doctor will suspect osteoporosis if you have an overall height loss of 1.5 inches or more, or a height loss of 0.8 inches or more from your last measurement. This much height loss is a sign of osteoporosis and warrants a bone density test.
But some height loss is normal. And you can lower your risk of height loss by doing the following:
- Exercise regularly.
- Lift weights (this, along with regular exercise, stresses your bones and makes them stronger).
- Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D to support bone health.
- Avoid smoking, excessive alcohol use and excessive caffeine intake — all of which are risk factors for osteoporosis.
If you feel you’re experiencing height loss, it’s a good idea to bring it up to your doctor at your next annual exam. And, if you seem to be getting shorter at a fairly rapid rate, bring it up with your doctor sooner rather than later. You’ll also want to be seen soon if you’re dealing with severe back pain or you’ve developed a stooped or hunched posture as these can be signs of osteoporosis. And remember, at any age, a good posture always makes one look taller. By Manny Palomar, PhD (EV Mail Jan. 31-Feb. 5, 2023 issue)