Why we shrink with age, why it matters and what we can do to prevent it

By | August 13, 2021

Of all the trials and tribulations that come with ageing, there is one that’s spoken about less than the rest — shrinking.

or some, losing a couple of inches of height is one of the many inconveniences of getting older, but new research suggests shrinkage can give us important warnings for our health too.

According to a study undertaken by Swedish researchers, women who shrink by an inch or more in their 50s are more than twice as likely to die of a stroke than someone who does not lose any height. Women with a major height loss were also 2.14 times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.

We start to lose height as early as our 40s — about half an inch each decade, according to Harvard Medical School. This is largely down to our spine compressing. As we age, the gel-like disks between our vertebrae lose fluid and thin out, causing us to shrink.

A gradual decline in height might also be a sign of osteoporosis, according to the Office on Women’s Health. One study of more than 3,000 adults published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that women over 70 who lose two or more inches in two years are 21pc more likely to fracture a hip in the next two years than women who shrink less.

Partly, this is down to hormones, explains Emily Gilliland, a personal trainer who specialises in women’s health. “Oestrogen has a protective effect on our bones and muscles. When women go through menopause, levels of oestrogen drastically decline, making women more likely to develop conditions such as osteoporosis,” she says.

Read More:  Can These Nutrients Help Prevent Muscle Wasting?

Thankfully, though, there are ways to slow down midlife shrinkage…

Strength training

Workouts that include weight lifting and resistance bands are particularly effective at preventing shrinkage, says Gilliland.

She explains that this type of exercise creates “micro-tears” in the muscle that heal and strengthen the muscles. “It puts a similar pressure on the bones, which stimulates the bone-building cells. This battles against the loss of bone density, which happens naturally as we age.”

Personal trainer Matt Roberts agrees. “Decreased bone density and the effects of osteoporosis cause reductions in height over time, and these can in many cases be mitigated,” he says. “Muscular-skeletal strengthening and mobility is vital for retaining height, strong bone structures and maintenance of a healthy working cardiovascular system.”

In a study of more than 2,000 men and women between 1965 and 1995, researchers in Israel found that those who exercised, either throughout their lives or just after they turned 40, lost about half as much height as those who had never exercised or stopped working out during middle age.

Yoga and Pilates

Poor posture can cause your spine to curve — a condition known as hyperkyphosis — which can contribute to shrinkage later down the line.

There is evidence to suggest that yoga might help reduce spinal curvature, although more research needs to be done to establish whether it can prevent the condition altogether.

“Pilates and yoga are excellent for core strength and consequently supporting your back,” says Gilliland.

Plenty of oily fish and greens

Both calcium and vitamin D are used as medications to help prevent fractures against osteoporosis, so incorporating them into your diet as you approach midlife is key.

Read More:  What makes up a plant based diet

The evidence on calcium supplements is mixed, so most experts agree that the best source comes from food — dairy, almonds, broccoli, kale, salmon and tofu are excellent sources.

Meanwhile, vitamin D is important for keeping bones and teeth healthy because it increases the absorption of calcium in the intestines. Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks are all good sources of vitamin D.

Good education — and not smoking

A 2013 study found that city dwellers shrink less than rural folk. Illiterate men and women lost .9cm and .6cm more, respectively, than men and women who were better educated. And One Canadian study published in 2008 found that teenage boys who smoke are, on average, 2.54cm shorter than non-smokers.

© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021

Independent.ie – Health & Wellbeing RSS Feed