The Long and the Short of It: You Shrink as You Get Older

October 12, 2011
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It’s not uncommon to shrink by a quarter to a third of an inch every decade after age 40. Think of a house settling on its foundation. Disks—the gel-like pads between vertebrae—lose fluid over the years and flatten. Muscles lose mass and weaken, especially in the abdomen, which can exacerbate poor posture. Even the arches of the foot flatten out slightly, reducing height by a few millimeters more.

It’s not uncommon to shrink by a quarter to a third of an inch every decade after age 40. Think of a house settling on its foundation. Disks—the gel-like pads between vertebrae—lose fluid over the years and flatten. Muscles lose mass and weaken, especially in the abdomen, which can exacerbate poor posture. Even the arches of the foot flatten out slightly, reducing height by a few millimeters more.

The process accelerates with age, particularly after age 70. In one long-running study of more than 2,000 Baltimore residents, men lost an average of 1.2 inches between ages 30 and 70, and a total of 2 inches by age 80. Women lost an average of 2 inches between 30 and 70 and 3.1 inches total by age 80.

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