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General Medical Questions
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Question : I am 68 years old. I used to be 5’6’’ tall. I just visited my doctor and my height was just over 5’4’’. Will I continue to shrink? What can I do to help stop it?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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May 23, 2013
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Starting at about age 40, people typically lose about half an inch each decade. And the decline usually speeds up after the 70th birthday. So now is a good time for you to be asking this question.

The two main causes of height lose are osteoporosis and bad posture.

As we get older, our bones become less dense, and more brittle. And they are more likely to fracture. This loss of bone tissue is called osteoporosis.

When a hip or wrist bone weakened by osteoporosis breaks, it’s usually the kind of crack we have in mind when we picture a broken bone. But fractures of the bones that make up our spine called vertebrae are different. Thin vertebrae get easily crushed. It’s like a cardboard box that has had too much weight put on it.

Most compression fractures happen without any known trauma or injury. And usually there are no symptoms. Sometimes there can be a more sudden vertebral collapse. This can be very painful.

All types of vertebral compression fractures result in loss of height. You can decrease the risk of losing more height the same way you prevent or treat osteoporosis.

Be sure you eat a calcium-rich diet. And take a vitamin D supplement every day. I recommend 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.

Healthy bones require daily exercise such as walking and/or weight training. Putting “pressure” stimulates new bone growth and prevents bone loss.

If you haven’t had a bone density test, you need one. It’s an easy test to see if you need additional drug therapy for thin bones.

Bad posture may be even more of a factor in  height loss associated with age. Some of us had  a tendency to slouch in our teens that never quite went away. And if you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, you may notice how your back bends toward the video monitor and your shoulders roll forward.

Back muscles, like all muscles, get weaker with age. Ligaments get stretched and muscles get trained to be in a bent-over position. Flabby abdominal muscles don’t help. Hard “abs” can help your posture by counteracting tired back muscles.

Some simple exercises can improve your posture. They will strengthen certain back muscles so you can stand up a little bit straighter. For example, lie on your stomach and then lift your head and shoulders for several seconds. You can either keep your arms by your side or stretch them out like “Superman.” Let your head down and then repeat the head and shoulder lift 6 to 8 times. Try to do this every day, maybe even twice per day.

Modified sit-ups (crunches) contract your stomach muscles to strengthen your abdomen. Lie flat on your back with knees bent. Support your head with your fingers and raise your head six inches off the floor, concentrating on pushing your lower spine down and tightening the abdominal muscles. Hold for a couple seconds and then lower to the floor. Repeat as many times as comfortable.

You might also consider yoga or tai-chi to help your posture.

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