How can I stop myself from shrinking?
September 1, 2009 5:27 PM   Subscribe

What’s the best way to avoid or minimise losing height as I get older?

How can I stop myself from shrinking?

My grandmother was 5’9” in her youth, but in old age has shrunk to about 5’2”. Some of this can probably be attributed to mild osteoporosis, but she is not particularly hunchbacked, so much of her height loss seems to be simply a result of getting older.

Physically, I am very similar to my grandmother – right down to our gait, stance and measurements, though I’m only 5’7” tall. I’d prefer not lose 7 inches off my height as a result of getting older (I’m currently 33). What can I do, now and in the future, to minimise shrinkage as I age?
posted by girlgenius to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There is really only one thing you do - spend as much time horizontal as you can. You shrink during the day (damn that gravity) and elongate at night (at least when you are growing). So become a couch potato and problem solved...though this may cause unwanted growth in other areas.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:30 PM on September 1, 2009

Restistance training with weights I would think would give you muscle tone and help keep everything propped up as you age.
posted by lottie at 5:30 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Restistance training with weights I would think would give you muscle tone and help keep everything propped up as you age.

Well, sure, but this requires so much WORK! No, lottie is probably on to something. i was also going to suggest yoga - it will help keep your posture straight and minimize hunching and will help stretch out your muscles and fight the effects of gravity. Poses which will probably be especially helpful are tadasana, head stands, wheel pose, etc...
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:32 PM on September 1, 2009

I would guess a regular yoga practice would help combat this, both in strengthening the bones through weight bearing activity, as well as keeping you elongated and strong in posture.
posted by sickinthehead at 5:33 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your grandmother is an extreme outlier. Typical height reduction with age is 1-3 inches. Part of this is due to compression of the disks between your vertebrae: this is largely unavoidable. The compression and deterioration of the vertebrae themselves contribute as well, and this is very much related to the degree of osteoporosis present.

(Are you absolutely certain that she really was 5'9" and has only mild osteporosis now?)

Focus on not getting osteoporosis, even though you may have some genetic predisposition to it. Get enough calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, do weight bearing exercise, including weight training, and maintain good posture so you seem taller and so your body mechanics stay good.

The point of weight bearing exercise is not having your muscle prop things up: weight bearing exercise makes your bones denser. Yoga will offer many benefits, and it will make you flexible, but for goodness' sake, lift some damn weights, too.
posted by maudlin at 5:47 PM on September 1, 2009 [6 favorites]

Mrs. Plinth's doctor recommended yogurt for the calcium, especially in the wake of having kids which takes a big calcium toll while lactating.
posted by plinth at 5:48 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good nutrition, sunshine for your natural vitamin D, and plenty of weight-bearing exercise. If you're looking to avoid hip fractures, 20 pound leg weights will get your bone density up.
posted by aquafortis at 6:03 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

A 7 inch reduction in height over one's life seems possible only if several inches have been amputated from one's legs.

In any event, get a lot of exercise, eat healthfully, get plenty of rest, etc.
posted by dfriedman at 6:39 PM on September 1, 2009

I find that the answer to most questions on askme is to lift weights. This one is not an exception.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:09 PM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

In addition to yoga...Pilates! It really helps to not only strengthen the back but also to elongate it. After doing pilates 2x/week, I've noticed a huge improvement in my posture. So much so that my husband thinks I've gotten taller. Yoga and pilates seem to create more space in my spine.

So, with pilates especially, you might prevent the hunchback look that so many older women get. Which might have something to do with smaller heights (I mean, they can't make an elderly woman stand any straighter than her spine will allow).
posted by hazel at 7:14 PM on September 1, 2009

My mom witnessed a similar phenomenon in her grandmother, but much, much worse -- her grandma lost four or five inches (so my mother says), and was so hunched over by the end that she couldn't straighten to look at the ceiling. Needless to say, my mother grew up terrified of getting osteoporosis herself, and is constantly lecturing me on the need to:

1) Lift weights, yes.
2) Stop drinking carbonated soda. Apparently it leeches calcium from your bones, which can lead to height loss. (What you want is to make sure your bone density stays high.)
3) Take those chewable calcium supplements. (I don't do this. But her doctor advised her that it was a good idea, so, hey. If you're worried, might want to check that out.)

But first and foremost and above all -- weight-bearing exercise.
posted by artemisia at 7:28 PM on September 1, 2009

Weights weights weights

(Carbonated soda does not leech calcium from your bones, but if you drink it, you aren't drinking milk which is full of very available calcium. Phosphorus and calcium have a relationship in your bone, but drinking extra phosphorus in soda doesn't offend the calcium and cause it to take a hike.)

Also, getting a little shorter isn't the worse thing that can happen - even if your nose and ears get bigger as your shrink. Being healthy and able to move well are want you should focus on.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:39 PM on September 1, 2009

You could look at Inversion Therapy which is supposed to undo the days effect of gravity. It's supposed to work well in conjunction with pilates (as suggeted by hazel). A friend of mine has an inversion table - they take up a lot of space, but they are pretty cool (interesting sensation!).
posted by jzed at 12:36 AM on September 2, 2009

Speak to a physio or someone in an allied field about your posture. Most of us walk a little hunched over, and this tendency increases with age and the loss of muscle tone. You frequently see this with old women whose head is bent forward, as if they were studying the ground. Building those muscles up now will prevent you developing forward head as you age. Previously.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:39 AM on September 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your answers - it looks like there are no magic solutions, but yoga and yoghurt are a good start.
posted by girlgenius at 2:52 AM on September 2, 2009

Get a copy of Strong Women Stay Young for weight lifting basics for women.
posted by x46 at 3:55 AM on September 2, 2009

Actually, yoga is a poor start. Weight training is a good start for the many reasons already mentioned in this thread.

No, you won't get bulky. Trust me, putting on significant amounts of muscle is hard and I'm a young dude with an abundance of testosterone.
posted by Loto at 5:04 AM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Calcium + Vitamin D, and stay active. Also, regular physicals/checkups with both your GP and girl-parts doctor.
posted by Citrus at 7:33 AM on September 2, 2009

Get a copy of Strong Women Stay Young for weight lifting basics for women.

I'm not familiar with this book, but it's a myth that weight lifting for women is any different than it is for men.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:44 AM on September 2, 2009

I'm going to throw swimming in here, too. It's all about elongating your body which must be a good thing. Most lifelong swimmer ladies that I see at the pool are in good shape, slim and not hunched.

Reminds me, I really need to get a weights workout added in to my weekly routine. Damn.
posted by amanda at 4:29 PM on September 2, 2009

Ludwig_van is right but I find it nice to see examples of women doing the thing that I'm trying to do. I don't know why, must be some evolutionary mimicry thing but while I find men inspiring, I get even more inspired by women doing something cool.
posted by amanda at 4:30 PM on September 2, 2009

Yes, weight lifting is weight lifting. However, Strong Women Stay Young has absolute basics which women may not know given that most have never worked with weights and addresses safety among other things. The weight limits are geared women, not men. I have books for both, and this one is much more woman-friendly and realistic than the usual men's let's make you into Arnie stuff.
posted by x46 at 11:50 PM on September 2, 2009

Here is a sample of several exercises included in Strong Women Stay Young:

Resistance Training
(8 times, 2 sets)

Seated Overhead Press, Leg Extension, Upward Row, Leg Curl, Biceps Curl with Rotation, Back Extension, Pelvic Tilt

I'm not trying to be fighty here, but this is not the a basic strength training program at all, rather it is the kind of don't-want-to-break-a-sweat silliness I see too many women doing at the gym. If you're worried about having strong bones and good posture, the squat and the deadlift will be the backbone of your program, and you should be doing your overhead press standing. Biceps curls, leg curls, and leg extensions are totally superfluous.

As always, read Starting Strength for a thorough and detailed introduction to strength training. It is entirely gender-neutral, includes everything an absolute beginner needs to know, and even has lots of pictures of women peforming the lifts.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:53 AM on September 3, 2009

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