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Are You Getting Shorter? What Height Loss Says About Your Health


Not as tall as you used to be? Probably not.

Gradually getting shorter is a natural part of aging, but losing too much height too rapidly, especially in men, can signal a higher risk of fractures, even heart disease, according to a story about height-loss research in the Wall Street Journal.

In general, adults begin to shrink by a quarter to a third of an inch every decade after age 40, thanks to changes in our bones, muscles and joints.

After age 70, however, the process speeds up. Women lose an average two inches between age 30 and 70, but by age 80, they've shrunk a total of three inches, according to a 35-year  Baltimore study on aging. Men, on average, lose 1.2 inches between ages 30 and 70, and a total of two inches by 80.

Losing height more quickly can signal other problems. A new study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research this month found that men over age 70 who lose two or more inches in two years have a 54 percent higher risk of fracturing a hip in the next two years, compared to men who lose less height.

Women over 70 who lose height that fast have a 21 percent higher risk of hip fracture, according to the study which examined data from 2,500 subjects ages 47 to 91.

Rapid height loss in men can also signal a higher risk of heart disease, a 2006 British study found. Men who lose 1.2 inches or more over 20 years (as opposed to the more normal 30 or 40 years) were 46 percent more likely to have suffered from coronary heart disease and 64 percent more likely to have died from any cause, compared to men who lost less height.

The reason height loss may signal more serious problems in men than in women is because men start out with more muscle mass and a generally slower rate of bone loss than women. Men who are growing shorter at an advanced rate may have other underlying health problems.

But here's the kicker: You may be able to cut your height loss in half through exercise, even if you only started doing it in middle age.

A 2000 Israeli study measured 2,000 men and women ages 35 to 55 in 1965, and then again in 1995. Those who  engaged in moderately vigorous aerobic activity, even if they started after age 40, lost only half as much height as those who stopped exercising in middle age or never exercised at all.

So stand tall. And  go take a walk.


Photo credit: altrendo images

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