Can You Prevent Age-Related Height Loss?

Q. Is there any way to prevent height loss as you age?

A: Estimates vary, but on average people lose a quarter of an inch to half an inch every decade after age 40 or 50, with losses increasing in later years, and women generally losing more than men.

Shrinkage occurs as the skeletal gel-like disks between the vertebrae lose fluid and thin out. Other contributing factors include a decline in muscle mass, bone density, and poor posture—which further weaken the spine, causing it to curve. The arches of your feet also become less pronounced and play a small role in height loss.

Although height loss is a natural part of aging, a noticeably rapid decrease might be caused by osteoporosis, which can lead to serious health complications. Osteoporosis is marked by progressively decreasing bone mass; it results in weakened, brittle bones that can fracture easily.

Shrinkage is largely out of your control, since genetics plays a big role, as do things you did in the past—for instance, how much bone you built when you were young. But even in later years you may be able to slow shrinkage by taking steps that will help protect your bones and muscles, such as doing workouts that put pressure on joints and bones, like walking and weight training; consuming adequate calcium, vitamin D, and other bone-healthy nutrients; not drinking alcohol to excess; and not smoking. You can also perform exercises that strengthen your abdominal muscles, which assist your back muscles for better posture.