The image of a tiny old man or woman stooping over a cane is a common association with aging. While your body will undergo changes as the years pass, there are steps you can take to keep standing tall.
Height loss is natural, and shouldn't be a cause of worry, unless it occurs rapidly. On average, people lose about one centimeter in height every 10 years, beginning at 40 years of age. This rate increases after the age of 70, leading to a total loss of between one to three inches of height.
The reason for the shrinking has to do with the vertebrae, the disk-like bones that make up your spine, which begin to lose mineral content and thin slightly. Additionally, the fluid that fills the space between each vertebra begins to diminish. Each of these small changes adds up to a noticeable loss in height.
Making matters worse, the loss of muscle mass in your back and the gradual deterioration of your spine and muscles causes many elderly to hunch-over when they stand. This bent-over position can cause pain and difficulty breathing.
The good news is that the sooner you take steps to prevent height loss, the greater the overall impact you can make. The National Institutes of Health suggests two basic means of stemming the tide against height loss:
By consuming plenty of calcium, you can prevent osteoporosis, the disease characterized by the weakening of bones. While men may also get this disease, postmenopausal women are most at risk, and need 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium every day to keep their bones strong. Vitamin D is important, too, as it helps the body absorb calcium.
Exercise is important to keep your bones strong and to improve flexibility. Weight-bearing exercises, like running, puts stress on your bones and send signals telling your body to strengthen them. Some experts also suggest trying yoga or tai chi, as these exercises emphasize maintaining a straight posture. Another exercise to try involves lying on your stomach and lifting your head and shoulders off of the ground for a few seconds. This will strengthen the muscles in your upper back to prevent stooping.