Why Are We Shrinking?
We lose inches as we age. Some people shrink sooner and more than others... but we all end up shorter in the end.
When I was younger, I loathed my height.
Sure, it got me attention but not the type I sought; making me even more self-conscious than I already was.
Whether friendly teasing or hurtful bullying, the comments stung just the same:
How’s the weather up there?
You’re like a tall drink of water.
Hey, spider legs!
And since flat shoes were nowhere to be in the 60s and early 70s, I was a frequent visitor to the shoemaker, toting in my heels and slouching in uncertainty, while shyly asking him to cut them down as much as possible. After all, how could I possibly date a boy who was shorter than me? And so many were.
(I suppose if these tall female celebrities linked to shorter men were around when I was a teenager, I would have felt a bit more…empowered.)
Alas, I’m older and wiser now, and reflecting back to those days makes me feel just plain foolish, while at the same time, sentimental.
Go ahead, call me spider legs, and feel free to ask me about the weather up there. Now I love my height - and want to hold onto every single inch of it.
Because I’m shrinking.
And so are you.
What’s Up With Moving Down?
It’s not uncommon for us to lose almost one-half an inch every ten years after age 40, Dr. Andrea Singer, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation, told me a few years ago when I interviewed her for an article on this topic. And if we’re fortunate enough to make it to age 70, that half-inch adds up to a height loss of a whopping three inches.
Bones, Muscles and Joints
The loss of height is related to changes in bones, muscles and joints. So says a study appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine, which also points out that (Really? It’s us again?) women suffer more loss of height than men do. Men can gradually lose an inch between ages of 30-70, while women typically lose about two or more inches over that same timespan.
Partially to blame: Our spinal discs, the cushions filled with gel that sit between our spine’s vertebrae, acting as shock absorbers to help our backs maintain flexibility.
Back when we start out in life, these discs contain about 80 percent water. But with the wear-and-tear of time, the discs slowly lose their fluid, then compress and flatten out. What’s next? Spaces between our joints narrow, making our trunk and spine shrink or shorten and/or become curved and compressed.
By age 60, many of us have some degree of degeneration, according to experts at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
But it’s not just our discs that are to blame.
As we age - and especially around menopause, when levels of estrogen plummet - we lose bone density.
Osteoporosis affects up to 10 million Americans. According to the Endocrine Society, “one in two postmenopausal women will have osteoporosis, and most will suffer a fracture during their lifetime.”
But osteoporosis doesn’t just target the wrists or hips - it can cause breakage in your spine as well. Known as compression or vertebral fractures, you may not even feel the break - at first. But repeated fractures can cause back aches and pain, numbness or tingling; and make walking difficult.
Compression fractures can actually cause your vertebrae to collapse, making your shorter in height. Fortunately, most of them heal on their own, without surgery, after about three months.
And if you need another good reason to keep your torso toned, here’s one: That muscle that plays a big part in our shrinkage. Why? It’s the torso muscles’ job to keep us upright. If these muscles are weak, we’re likely to suffer from stooped posture - which can make us appear shorter.
The good news is that we can fight sarcopenia and keep our muscles from atrophying with resistance or strength training exercises.
And torso-toning can be easily accomplished with exercises like side bridges, planks and abdominal crunches. Try to avoid “traditional” sit-ups, which can strain your lower back.
Psst…Here’s a fact that might surprise you: Even the flattening arches of your feet (another side effect of age) from degenerating ligaments can bring your height down a (small) notch.
A Good Reason To Mind Our Posture
“As we age, we typically develop a forward slump; our head moves forward as our shoulders and upper back round,” says thePause’s Fitness Maven and exercise physiologist, Joan Pagano (also the author of Strength Training Exercises for Women and owner of Joan Pagano Fitness in New York City).
“Our daily routines are partially to blame for this forward slump. Things like driving, doing housework, raising children, doing desk work - they all pull us forward. Gradually, this takes a toll on the shape of our spine,” she explains.
Don’t Worry. We’ve Got Your Back.
You may not be able to completely avoid the shrinkage, but there are things you can do to minimize the loss of height; like stretching, being aware of your posture and doing exercises. Joan offers these tips:
· Do full body stretches to maintain length in the muscles and connective tissue. Try these stretches.
· Develop an awareness of your posture when you are standing and sitting. Work on keeping your head, neck and spine aligned, with your ears over your shoulders, your shoulder blades anchored down and together. Here’s how to maintain alignment.
· Elongate the sides of your torso, separating the ribs from the hips, lengthening the spine, lifting the top of the head to the ceiling. Make your back happy.
For a Pause…
Sneak a peek. If you’re in the market for some super-comfy sneakers, check out Under Armour’s Flow Synchronicity shoes. Traditionally, running shoes for women are simply men’s shoes made smaller. But not these. They’re made by, and for, women. Amen to that. My feet are sooooo happy when I wear these.
Don’t look down. When we look down at our phones, we develop “text neck” or “tech neck.” Ouch. Painful fact: For each inch we tilt our heads (the average head weighing in at ten pounds) forward, the amount of weight it puts on your spine almost doubles.
Sit right. Don’t just think about posture when you’re standing; you need to maintain good posture while sitting, too.
Stand tall. A “posture corrector” is not just a verbal reminder to yourself or a nag from a well-intentioned loved one. You actually can wear one. It works by guiding your body back into its natural alignment.
One More Thing:
Do you suppose we can coax our lost inches back with a love song like this?
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Until next time, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.