Can You Shrink in Height? 5 Solutions to Stop Height Loss with Age

Written by Joshua Leaf | Updated on January 10, 2022

If you’re skirting your 30s or 40s, you might be wondering, “Can you shrink in height?” or “Am I getting shorter?”

Well, as time goes by humans both grow in height through their teens and gradually get shorter in their elder years. Believe it or not, studies show people lose about ½ an inch every decade, where men may end up 1.2-1.5 inches shorter by their 70s and women may shrink by up to 2 inches [1] [2]. 

The truth is height loss with age is a common phenomenon and getting shorter is a part of the cycle of life. Luckily, there are preventive solutions that can mitigate or lessen the gradual shrinkage, but let’s figure out why humans shrink in the first place. 

What Causes Loss of Height in Old Age?

It’s clear that for people to shrink with age, the rate of new bone formation must fall behind the speed of bone breakdown. Until 30, new bone forms faster than it breaks down, but this rate generally declines after 35 [3].

On top of that, your height changes every day from morning to night – most people shrink by 0.25-1 inch throughout the day, and they still wake up at their usual height [4]! Contrary to popular belief, though, height loss with age doesn’t occur solely because of weaker bones – spinal compression is also a major factor. 

Spine Compression

As people go through their day, their vertebrae (the interlocking bones that make up the spine) compress as the fluid between them flattens due to both the body’s weight and gravity. This exact process causes people to lose height as they get older.

The cushion-like fluid between the vertebrae compresses under decades of stress and aging from supporting the body and gravity, so people lose a couple of inches as they get older. The long bones, such as the ones in the arms and legs, generally stay the same length unless the person suffers from a condition like osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis and Bone Loss

People with osteoporosis develop weak, brittle bones with a sponge-like texture. These bones are much more likely to fracture and collapse, so people who lose more than a couple of inches in height might be at risk for osteoporosis.

Women are generally more likely to have weaker bones than men, but post-menopausal women are especially at risk of developing osteoporosis due to hormonal changes that prevent the bones from absorbing enough calcium and loss of muscle mass [5]. 

Muscle Loss

After the ages of 30 and beyond, most people begin experiencing sarcopenia which is defined as a loss of muscle mass, gaining fat, and being frail and/ or fragile. This change is generally caused by a decline in activity levels, neurons not firing as well, inflammation as well as lower concentrations of hormones such as human growth hormone, testosterone, insulin. Menopause in women also play a role.

Fat gain and muscle loss weaken the limbs and make them less capable of sustaining weight, adding pressure to the bones. Belly fat is also hazardous for bone health as women with more visceral fat (primarily belly fat), are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis (another reason for height loss with age) [6].

As seen above, you can surely shrink in height as you age, but you can also mitigate it with a little bi tof effort. Even if someone has a genetic predisposition towards osteoporosis, they can prevent (or significantly delay) bone and height loss with simple lifestyle changes.

How Do I Stop My Height from Shrinking and Prevent Bone Loss?

Keeping the body healthy throughout the younger years is key to preventing bone and muscle loss later in life. If a person is past 30 years old, or even 70, they can still fight atrophy (a loss of muscle mass) and protect their orthopedic health by following these preventative measures for optimal bone health.

1. A Nutritious Diet

Consuming a nutritious and balanced diet ensures that the body gets all the minerals and vitamins it needs to preserve bone health. Above all, people must get enough calcium and vitamin D since these two vitamins are the cornerstone for good bone health.

Calcium: Calcium is the true star of the show when it comes to bone strength. The human body can’t synthesize calcium itself, so we can only get it from dietary sources and supplements. It’s suggested that adults above 50 need 2,000 mg of calcium a day, and those above 70 need 1,200-1,500 mg [7]. No matter your age, make sure to eat calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, salmon, spinach, tofu, beans, and lentils regularly.

Vitamin D: Without vitamin D, most calcium will go to waste because the body won’t adequately absorb it. This vitamin is essential to form the hormone calcitriol and is vital for calcium absorption. Adults over 70 need 800 IU of vitamin D a day, so make sure to get out in the sun (with sunscreen!) [8]. Although vitamin D from sunlight is best, doctors can also prescribe this vitamin.

Healthy BMI: As you age, you can shrink in height due to being overweight or obese. Excess weight puts undue pressure on the bones and speeds up spinal shrinkage in addition to potentially causing hormonal changes too. A balanced diet helps stay at an ideal weight and prevent bone loss.

2. Adequate Exercise

Exercise is the other side of the coin to a nutritious diet. Not only does performing enough physical activity promote good health and keep weight off, but it also preserves bone health. One study showed that postmenopausal women who regularly performed strenuous exercise at 18 and above were less likely to lose height over five years [9].

To get the full benefits of exercise, you should perform a variation of exercises and consider low impact exercises if you’re older or have joint problems. 

Some low impact exercises include:

  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Rowing
  • Pilates
  • Dancing

High impact exercises include:

  • Running
  • Jump Rope
  • Tennis
  • Hiking

At the right intensity, high and low impact exercise can improve your cardiovascular health too.

In addition, many studies have shown that weight lifting slows down bone and height loss since it builds healthy bones and keeps them from decaying [10].

3. Posture

As children, most of us have heard our parents say, “Sit straight!” or “Don’t slouch!”, and for good reason. Although they probably aren’t thinking poor posture will make you can shrink in height as you age, sitting up right in the early years plays a huge role in keeping your stature as you age. 

Not to mention, keeping the back straight can make you look 1-2 inches taller, but that’s only in the short term. 

In the long run, keeping a straight neck, square shoulders, and an erect back can mean avoiding thoracic kyphosis – when the shoulders round and fall forward, creating a subconscious slouch [11]. 

It’s much harder to improve posture with the weak muscles of old age so the sooner you’re aware of this, the better. Exercises like Pilates and yoga are great ways to build good posture and decompress the spine. Strength training also builds up the core muscles which can also facilitate proper posture. 

Above all, pay attention to the body to avoid developing a hump back or kyphosis. Straighten the neck, back, and shoulders whenever it comes to mind, especially when working or sitting hunched over while gazing at your cell phone. To maintain good posture at a desk job, be sure your feet are flat on the floor with your thighs and forearms parallel with the floor.   

4. Avoid Drugs, Smoking, and Alcohol

Height loss with age is natural, but drugs, smoking, and excessive alcohol only speed up aging. Many drugs lower bone density, and smoking has been a known risk factor for osteoporosis for decades [12] [13]. Alcohol also interferes with the calcium balance in the body and the production of vitamin D, leading to weaker bones [14].

Besides, alcohol and drug abuse and regular smoking negatively affect stamina, lung capacity, and health in general, making people less likely to exercise and more likely to overeat. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s best to avoid drugs altogether. 

5. Stand and Move Often

Can you shrink in height by just sitting? Though sitting is such an ordinary thing to do, staying in one place for long periods is harmful to the spine. A study of sedentary workers showed that they suffered a significant loss in overall height after their shift. [15].

Though not everyone can move around all day, primarily if they work a desk job, they can still get up and pace a bit every hour or so or use a standing desk to mitigate sitting for too long. Office workers should also try to stay active once they’re home too. They can simultaneously stretch or fold laundry if they’re watching Netflix. Similarly, people can combine all sedentary activities with occasional breaks to move around. 

Furthermore, people can also walk to work, walk their dog, or take a couple of short strolls around the neighborhood every day. Every little bit of activity counts when it comes to preserving bone health because it’s very common for older individuals to become dependent on others because they can no longer go from sitting to standing on their own. 

How to Get Shorter or Taller No Matter The Age

You now know how to prevent height loss as you age, but maybe you’ve already started losing height or were never satisfied to begin with. In that case, you can try some temporary solutions like regular stretching and exercising for better posture, wearing taller shoes or using heel inserts. These products can make you appear taller which can help boost confidence.

However, some people want a permanent solution to become taller and consider leg lengthening or height surgery. 

This should be considered after other options have been exhausted and it becomes even more difficult for those over 50. This procedure can add up 2-6 inches of height, but it’s both expensive and time-consuming [16]. 

So in reality, you can shrink in height as you age but there are many ways to prevent it. 

As always, make sure to consult your doctor about your health if you’re concerned about height loss and explore your options before making any big decisions. 

References

[1] MedlinePlus. (2020, July 19). Aging changes in body shape. MedlinePlus. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003998.htm

[2] Dahl, M. (2011, October 7). Yep, you’re shrinking as you get older. Here’s why. NBC News. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/healthmain/yep-youre-shrinking-you-get-older-heres-why-1c6437163

[3] Cleveland Clinic. (2020, April 27). Osteoporosis: Symptoms, Causes, Tests & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4443-osteoporosis

[4] NASAexplores. (2004, February 26). My How You’ve Grown! NASA. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/F_How_Youve_Grown_5-8.html

[5] Ji, M. X., & Yu, Q. (2015). Primary osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Chronic diseases and translational medicine, 1(1), 9–13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5643776/

[6] Bredella, M. A., Torriani, M., Ghomi, R. H., Thomas, B. J., Brick, D. J., Gerweck, A. V., Harrington, L. M., Breggia, A., Rosen, C. J., & Miller, K. K. (2011). Determinants of bone mineral density in obese premenopausal women. Bone, 48(4), 748–754. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21195217/

[7] Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, November 17). Calcium – Health Professional Fact Sheet. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

[8] Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, August 17). Vitamin D – Health Professional Fact Sheet. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

[9] Hill, D. J. (2018, May 23). Study: Strenuous exercise in adolescence may ward off height loss later in life. University at Buffalo. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2018/05/033.html

[10] Harvard Medical School. (2021, October 13). Strength training builds more than muscles. Harvard Health. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/strength-training-builds-more-than-muscles

[11] Ailon, T., Shaffrey, C. I., Lenke, L. G., Harrop, J. S., & Smith, J. S. (2015). Progressive Spinal Kyphosis in the Aging Population. Neurosurgery, 77 Suppl 4, S164–S172. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26378354/

[12] Editorial Staff. (2021, December 1). How Drugs & Alcohol Affect The Skeletal System. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/health-complications-addiction/skeletal-system

[13] NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. (2018, December 1). Smoking and Bone Health | NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/bone-smoking

[14] NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. (2018, November 1). What People Recovering From Alcoholism Need To Know About Osteoporosis | NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/alcoholism

[15] Igic, I., Ryser, S., & Elfering, A. (2013). Does work stress make you shorter? An ambulatory field study of daily work stressors, job control, and spinal shrinkage. Journal of occupational health psychology, 18(4), 469–480. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24099165/

[16] Paley Orthopedic and Spine Institute. (2018). Costs & Financial Considerations. Paley Orthopedic & Spine Institute. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://paleyinstitute.org/centers-of-excellence/stature-lengthening/costs-financial-considerations/#/

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