Diet, Exercise Important in Maintaining Height as We Age

Patient Expert

I had to bite my tongue the other day when we were at Dad's doctor's appointment. "How tall are you?" the nurse asked. "I'm 5-foot, 7-inches tall," Dad said. I jokingly asked, "Is that bent over or when you're standing straight?" At that point, Dad kind of glared at me so I figured it was time to zip my lip.

Dad, who now is 88 years of age, leans over tremendously at this point in his life. I believe a lot of is his attempt to relieve the chronic back pain that he's endured for many years. But I also think that even if he stood up straight, he'd still find that he's lost several inches in height.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Services points out that we can start losing height when we reach our 30s. Women can lose as much as two inches between the ages of 30 to 70 while men may gradually lose an inch. Both genders can lose another inch after they cross the 80-year-old mark.

Part of the reason for the shrinkage can be due to the loss of cartilage between their joints as well as osteoporosis causes the spinal column to shorten. In addition, gaining fat can lead to a condition called sarcopenia. This condition causes a decrease in muscle mass, which can result in weakness and frailty and a shorter height.

There are some steps you can take to prevent losing as much height, although you may not be able to control some of these changes). These steps include:

  • Eating a healthy diet. According to the University of Illinois Extension, you should focus on eating a bone healthy diet. "In general, a bone healthy diet is consuming enough calories for adequate weight, and the optimal amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin D.," the group's website states. You should try to eat the recommended number of servings of produce (2-1/2 cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit for a 2,000-calorie diet) and also lower the amount of sodium to no more than, 1,500 milligrams (1.5 grams) a day. Also consume a variety of foods in amounts recommended for your particular situation (age, gender, height, and physical activity level). According to the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Research Center, calcium-rich foods include fortified oatmeal, sardines, cheddar cheese, nonfat milk, tofu, yogurt, soybeans, orange juice, canned salmon with edible bones, instant pudding made with 2 percent milk, baked beans, cottage cheese, spaghetti, lasagna, turnip greens, fortified waffles and broccoli, among others. Vitamin D can be obtained through the skin, the diet (egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver and fortified milk) and from supplements.
  • Don't drink alcohol in excess. Excessive alcohol interferes with the body's balance of calcium, increases the parathyroid hormone levels (which decreases the body's calcium reserves) and interferes with the production of vitamin D (which is necessary for calcium absorption). Chronic heavy drinking also can cause hormone deficiencies in women and men.
  • Don't resort to extreme dieting.
  • Maintain good posture.
  • Exercise. The National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Research Center points out that exercise helps treat and prevent osteoporosis. "The best exercise for your bones is the weight-bearing kind, which forces you to work against gravity," the center's website states. "Some examples of weight-bearing exercises include weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis, and dancing. Examples of exercises that are not weight-bearing include swimming and bicycling. Although these activities help build and maintain strong muscles and have excellent cardiovascular benefits, they are not the best way to exercise your bones."
  • Don't take steroids.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

KidsHealth from Nemours. (2013). Why do people shrink?

National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. (2012). Exercise for your bone health.

National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. (2012). What people recovering from alcoholism need to know about osteoporosis.

University of Arkansas for Medical Services. (Nd).   Do people shrink as they age?

University of Illinois Extension. (Nd). What is a bone healthy diet?