Do you get shorter as you age? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. According to researchers, the process starts after age 30. The change is not dramatic, only an inch or two, unless you have a medical condition called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is decreased bone density. It increases your risk of hip and spine fractures. Spine and hip fractures can cause chronic pain and disability.
If you are over 50, it is worth tracking your height periodically because osteoporosis doesn’t have any symptoms in its early stages. However, there are steps you can take to decrease your risk.
Why Do You Shrink as You Age?
Until about age 30, you build more bone than your break down. When bone is broken down faster than it is built up, it becomes thinner and more fragile. Bone is made up of living cells, collagen fibers, and salt crystals. Bone cells include:
Osteoblasts: build bone
Osteoclasts: break down bone
Osteocytes: maintain bone
Salt crystals form when calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate combine to form hydroxyapatite. Hydroxyapatite incorporates other minerals and crystallizes on collagen fibers. Hydroxyapatite crystals give bone its strength, and collagen fibers provide flexibility.
Hormonal aging has a significant effect on bone density; both estrogen and testosterone impact bone development and strength. Postmenopausal women go through two phases of bone loss: a period of rapid loss in which 5% to 10% of the outer surface of bone and 20% to 30% of the inner bone are lost. Everyone goes through a slow phase of bone loss in which 20% to 25% of bone density is lost. Bone changes are one of the many aging differences by sex and gender.
With aging, the intervertebral discs between vertebrae dehydrate, narrowing the spaces between the vertebrae in the spine. Changes in muscles and joints can cause your feet to become flatter, which can also contribute to getting shorter as you age.
Pain: Spinal and hip fractures can be painful, and the medications used to relieve pain have a host of side effects.
Immobilization: Prolonged immobilization increases the risk of pressure sores, decreased muscle strength, infections, and blood clots.
How to Prevent Loss of Height
You can reduce your risk of losing height due to osteoporosis by:
Engaging in physical activity: Physical activity that stresses bones can build bone density and strengthen muscles. Regular exercise, such as walking or jogging, can reduce your risk of bone fractures and falls. Although most people experience decreased muscle mass and strength with aging, performance supplements can help restore strength and speed up recovery after exercise.
Alcohol: Avoid excessive alcohol intake as it can affect estrogen and testosterone levels and increase your risk of decreased bone density.
Tobacco: If you are a smoker, quit. Tobacco smoking is associated with decreased bone density.
Increase dietary calcium: men and women over age 71 should aim for 1200 mg/day of calcium in their diet. Men aged 50 to 70 should aim for 1000 mg/day. Consider taking dietary supplements if you feel your intake is below these goals.
Maintain a healthy weight: Increasing muscle mass and reducing excess body fat, a healthy change in body composition, can reduce stress on joints and make it easier to engage in physical activity.
Caffeine: Avoid excess caffeine intake as some studies show susceptible women who consume excess caffeine may experience more bone loss in their spine.
High Salt Diet: Increased salt consumption can increase calcium excretion in the urine.
How to Address Loss of Height
The best way to address loss of height is to protect your bones from further decreases in bone density.
Vitamin D: Consider supplementing with vitamin D, especially if you live further from the equator and in the winter months. In addition to giving your body the nutrients needed to maintain your bone density, Vitamin D3 and other antiaging supplements can help reduce cellular stress and provide more energy and increased strength for exercise.
Increase physical activity: Increasing physical activity of any kind can increase muscle strength, joint stability, and balance, which can help protect against falls.
Maintain a healthy weight: Both a very low and a high body mass index can increase the risk of fractures. A low body mass index is associated with decreased bone density, and a high body mass index increases the risk for fractures.
Reasons for Premature Height Loss
Factors that increase your risk of losing height from osteoporosis include:
Vitamin D deficiency: Vitamin D plays an important role in absorbing calcium from the gut and the urine. Calcium is stored in bone and broken down when needed by the body.
Menopause: Estrogen helps protect bone. Bone density decreases when estrogen levels fall after menopause.
Sex hormones: Estrogen helps maintain bones, and testosterone adds additional strength and thickness to bones, which is why men typically have longer and stronger bones.
Genetic diseases: Inherited conditions such as idiopathic hypercalciuria can cause more rapid bone loss. Others, such as Turner’s syndrome, affect sex hormone production and, therefore, bone density.
Medical conditions: Some endocrine and metabolic diseases can increase your risk of osteoporosis.
Medications: Some medications, such as glucocorticoids (steroids), seizure medications, and proton pump inhibitors (treat gastroesophageal reflux disease or ulcers), can affect calcium absorption and can reduce bone density.
Race: All postmenopausal women have a higher fracture risk than men. White women have the highest risk, followed by Asian women, Hispanic women, and Black women.
Family history: If you have a family history of osteoporosis, you may be at increased risk.
Sedentary lifestyle: Pounding exercise such as walking or jogging strengthens bones, along with joints and muscles, which reduces your risk of falls and other injuries. People who lose weight need to increase their exercise to compensate for the decreased stress on their bones due to weight loss.
Smoking: Smoking can affect estrogen levels and therefore lead to bone loss.
No signs or symptoms are associated with decreased bone density until you have a fracture. Eat a healthy diet and engage in weight-bearing exercises like walking, running, and jogging. Consult with the medical professionals at Invigor Medical for ideas on how supplements could improve your overall health.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.