Have you ever stooped over to hug an elderly relative and found yourself wondering: were they always that short?
The bad news: they weren’t. We really do shrink as we age; up to a centimetre per decade past our 40s, and even faster as we reach 70 and 80. It can also speed up after menopause.
The good news: it’s preventable, or can at least able to be minimised, with a few simple lifestyle changes.
Professor Barbara Workman, Director of the Monash Ageing Research Centre, told the ABC that this is usually due to thinning of the structures between our vertebrae. These spongy disks help us comfortably our spine and absorb shock.
“They can become degenerative or they can be damaged over time, and that will mean your back is shorter because they’re thinner”, says Professor Workman.
The other reason people can get shorter as they get older is that they develop crush fractures in their vertebrae as a result of osteoporosis. With a crush fracture you actually squash down the bony blocks that are the vertebrae in the back”.
However, while some compacting is inevitable, there are plenty of steps we can take today to keep most of our well-earned centimetres. These include:
Vitamin D is particularly important to continued bone health as we age. Alongside regular moderate sun exposure, adding some dairy to your diet can go a long way. Our recent guide to improving bone health offers some great starting tips on working these four serves into your day-to-day life.
If you find yourself losing multiple centimetres a year, this may be due to a medical condition, so don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for guidance.
An alarming majority of Australians over 50 live their day-to-day lives with a bone condition (most commonly osteoporosis), but it’s often undiagnosed until much later. This means you may be living day-to-day life with bones that might not be able to sustain an active lifestyle, and a height more likely to reduce over time. If you’ve been dealing with back pain, a stooped posture or an unexpected bone fracture, seek professional advice sooner rather than later so you can take corrective steps.
Weight-bearing exercises (i.e. activities in which your body can support its own weight) are among the best for overall bone health. These can include swimming, tennis, jogging and even regular brisk walking.
On another front, you can also take steps to make the most of the height you have. Tai chi, yoga or physiotherapy sessions can go a long way in improve posture awareness and overall stature.
Have you noticed yourself shrinking? Does it worry you? And which of these steps are you taking to avoid it?