March 8, 2019

Do people shrink as they age?

Do people shrink as they age?

Vision, hearing, memory and hair are just a few things that tend to disappear as the candles increase on our birthday cake. Unfortunately, height can be added to this list. In fact, we can begin shrinking as early as our 30s, according to some research.

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.

Should we pay attention to how fast we lose height? Yes. Shrinking too fast can be an indication of a much bigger problem than having to hem your pants. Those who lose one to two inches within a year may be at a higher risk for spinal and hip fractures as well as heart disease in men. If this occurs, you should consult your doctor.

While we may not be able to control some changes to our body as we age, there are some habits we can change to prevent losing as many inches. These habits include slouching, a lack of physical activity, smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine excessively, extreme dieting, taking steroids and poor nutrition.

“Research has shown that a good diet in your later years reduces your risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers,” UAMS neurosurgeon Dr. T. Glenn Pait says. “Even though you might need less energy as you get older, you still need just as many nutrients from food.”

Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as dairy, fruits and vegetables, can help keep your bones strong. Also, doing weight-bearing exercises can help thwart shrinkage.

UAMS senior health services