A friend, who I hadn’t seen for a few weeks, greeted me with these words: “Every time I see you, you’re taller.“ You maybe expect to be told that when your 7 or 17, but I’m in my seventies. I couldn’t help feeling smug.
I decided to do some research to understand why I wasn’t shrinking like all the other seniors I know. Here’s what I found.
Is it normal to lose height as you get older?
Most authorities agree it is normal.
According to UAMS Health: “Men can gradually lose an inch (2.5 cm) between the ages of 30 to 70, and women can lose about two inches (5 cm). After the age of 80, it’s possible for both men and women to lose another inch (2.5 cm).”
The Cleveland Clinic also says it’s normal to lose height as you get older:
“Losing a little height as you get older is normal. Over the years, the discs between your spine’s vertebrae flatten, your muscles start to lose mass and the spaces between your joints narrow.”
How much height loss as you age is abnormal?
The Cleveland Clinic cautions that some height loss is abnormal. For example, if you’ve lost three or four inches that could mean you have osteoporosis and so need to consult a medical practitioner. Rheumatologist Dr Abby G. Abelson, MD, FACR from the Cleveland Clinic says: “Certainly losing a half-inch or three quarters of an inch may be normal, but I’ve seen patients who say they’ve lost two, three, or four inches in height, and they thought that was a natural consequence of aging. But it’s not.”
How to prevent height loss as you age
So, it may be normal, but is it preventable?
The solution for preventing that normal shrinking (not that caused by osteoporosis) is very clear and involves several strategies:
1. Get enough Vitamin D. This can mean sunlight. If you spend a lot of time indoors, a vitamin D supplement may be necessary. If you live in a country that doesn’t see much sunlight in winter, you will probably need to take a vitamin D supplement during that time.
2. Eat calcium rich foods. It’s best to do this with food, rather than taking supplements. Many calcium supplements contain relatively indigestible forms of calcium. This doesn’t mean you need to drink cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is more and more being shown to damage overall health. We often think we need to drink cow’s milk to get enough calcium, but in fact there are good vegan sources in green leafy vegetables, almonds, sesame seeds (and so tasty tahini spread), dried figs, chia seeds and pulses (legumes). All of these foods are packed with other nutrients. As well as getting the calcium you need, you’ll be enjoying a whole range of phytonutrients to support your body and your well-being.
3. Aerobic exercise – that’s exercise where you get out of breath. A 2000 Israeli study measured 2,000 men and women ages 35 to 55 in 1965, and then again in 1995. Those who engaged in moderately vigorous aerobic activity, even if they started after age 40, lost only half as much height as those who stopped exercising in middle age or never exercised at all.
4. Weight training can help you keep good posture through maintaining muscle mass. I particularly recommend banded face pulls as an important part of what you do. You can even do these easily at home, if you buy a set of resistance bands. Thesse are very chap to buy. This exercise works the shoulder and the back, so helps your posture. Buy don’t be afraid of lifting weights, as there are so many advantages not just in terms of your height.
I measured my height a couple of months ago. If anything, I’m about half an inch (1.25 cm) taller than I was in my twenties. So not only haven’t I shrunk, I’ve actually increased my height. So, what’s going on?
My friend who commented on my height, went on to say: “It must be all this gym stuff you’re doing.” I think she’s right, plus the nutrient-rich plant-based diet I follow. I also use my bike as my main means of transport, cycling 30-40 miles (48-64 km) a week.
You may be thinking that you are too old to go to the gym, but I’ve written an article especially for you on just that topic.
I feel this simple measure – my height now compared with what it was in my twenties – is another indication that I have an abundantly healthy lifestyle, which has so many other benefits.
It is normal for most people to lose height, as they get older. This is because they don’t eat a nutrient-dense diet and they don’t maintain their muscle mass through weight training and other fitness activities. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been that keen on being normal.
First published in Sixty And Me