Until today. At my annual physical examination my official height is (drum roll please) 5' 1.6"! That's right! An additional six tenths of an inch! I asked the nurse to remeasure, double-checking that I was standing properly and that my hair wasn't being included. Measurement confirmed: 61.6"!
How can I be 6/10 of an inch taller? Don't people tend to shrink, not grow, as they age? According to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, we can begin shrinking as early as our 30s. Men can gradually lose an inch between the ages of 30 to 70, and women can lose about two inches. After the age of 80, it’s possible for both men and women to lose another inch!
Why do we shrink as we age? Dr. Pham, Liem, a geriatrician at the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, says that we can shrink for several different reasons. “Older adults can get shorter because the cartilage between their joints gets worn out and osteoporosis causes the spinal column to become shorter,” he says. “Adults can also lose lean muscle mass but gain fat. This is a condition called sarcopenia.” Sarcopenia is characterized by a decrease in muscle mass, which leads to weakness and frailty and also a decrease in height. Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and fracture, which can also cause a person to become shorter. (So do your workouts, people!)
So why am I taller? I firmly believe that my yoga practice is to thank. Yoga teaches you how to use your muscles differently, so many people find that their posture changes. Because most people have a 'collapsed' posture, the ability to change it is likely to make you 'longer' when you stand. Yoga doesn't really 'decompress' your spinal discs, but by standing differently, you help them to carry the weight more evenly.
It's my overall lifestyle that keeps me from shrinking. While there are some changes to our body that we cannot control as we age, there are habits that we can change to help prevent losing as many inches as we age:
- Slouching - Yoga brings awareness to your posture; repetitive, continual slouching is bad for the spine. Did you just sit up a bit as you read this? I did.
- Lack of physical activity - Our bodies are built for movement. Being active helps to keep bones strong
- Smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine excessively, taking steroids - I guess these really can stunt your growth (and weaken bones) - not part of a healthy lifestyle
- Extreme dieting / poor nutrition - what we eat really does matter! Really!
I'm sure inquiring minds want to know, will I be including the .6 whenever I need to declare my height.? You bet! Wouldn't you?
What does this have to do with wellness? Our lifestyle choices impact the future self. Take care of yourself (eat healthfully, exercise) and you can avoid shrinkage.
Click below for more about posture:
In health (and height),
Wellness Lifestyle Educator