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What to do about shrinking in old age

It is well known that the aging process cannot be stopped. This includes the fact that we can hear and see less well. We lose muscle mass and brain power. And we’re getting smaller. But why are we actually shrinking?

That darn aging process. Many people try to fight it: They optimize their diet, take food supplements, do a lot of sport – sometimes external cosmetic surgery also helps in the fight against visible aging. But one thing is certain: this process cannot be stopped. However, it can be slowed down and counteracted to a certain extent. But is it also possible to do something against the natural shrinking in old age?

Why do we shrink with age?

Up until the age of about 30, we build more bone mass than we break down. But after the age of 35, the process slows, so we lose more bone mass than we can build.1 This is one of the reasons why the shrinking process begins in some people between the ages of 40 and 50. The process is individual for each person. On average, it’s a good one centimeter per decade. And so the shrinkage becomes more noticeable with each decade of life.

There are many reasons for the decrease in height

  • muscle volume decreases
  • due to muscle atrophy, the supportive posture of the skeleton deteriorates, we walk more bent
  • bone density also decreases, often leading to osteoporosis
  • Osteoporosis, in turn, ensures that not only does posture deteriorate (up to and including deformity of the spine), but that the skeletal mass decreases overall
  • the hormone level changes with age, less bone material is produced
  • the water content in the body decreases – as a result (and due to decades of wear and tear) the intervertebral discs become smaller and the spine shortens
  • Arthritis also increases shrinkage with age
  • And of course genes play a role too
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Also interesting: Calorie intake has an amazing effect on the aging process

When it comes to shrinking in old age, there is not just one set screw that we can turn. It is a complex and holistic process that depends on many factors of aging.

Education, income and place of residence also appear to have an influence

In an interesting study that was published in 2013, the health data of around 20,000 Chinese were evaluated.2 All participants were older than 45 years at the time of the study. The study is special in that most of the subjects presumably lived in poverty during their childhood and therefore had equally poor starting conditions. This means that the factor of a healthy childhood can be almost completely ruled out for the participants.

When evaluating the data, the researchers found that both women and men with better school education, who live in an urban area and have higher per capita household expenses shrink less in old age. Accordingly, the decrease in height was greater in people with poor education in rural areas and low socio-economic status. Interestingly, the researchers found that mental fitness in particular protects against a loss of height: those subjects who did best on knowledge tests and puzzles had lost the least height so far. However, the scientists could not answer why this is so.

Also interesting: Under these conditions, men live longer than women

The greater the shrinkage, the higher the mortality risk

A more recent 2020 study conducted in Indonesia came to similar conclusions.3 The test persons were observed over a period of 17 years and their height was documented over time. The scientists found that the reduction in size is greater in older people, taller people and women. Here too, as in the Chinese study, connections were established between education, marital status, household consumption, place of birth and state of health and the degree of shrinkage. It was also observed that women who lost three or more centimeters had a seven percent higher risk of dying.

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A Scandinavian study also shows that a strong reduction in size of more than two centimeters increases the risk of death in women.4 FITBOOK previously reported.

Also interesting: Special oxygen therapy can apparently reverse the aging process of the cells

Can the process be prevented?

Of course, a factor like genetic predisposition cannot be influenced. In addition, the foundation for a healthy and strong skeleton is laid in our childhood and youth. Anyone who had a nutrient deficiency in this important phase of life and did not do enough sport has a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, for example. According to the Techniker Krankenkasse, young people who are active build up a maximum bone mass that is around five to ten percent higher than those who are inactive.5

But there are many things that can be done about many of the factors mentioned above that are responsible for shrinking in old age. The main thing is to start as early as possible to slow down bone and muscle breakdown.

  • Muscle atrophy can be counteracted with weight training
  • weight training also promotes the formation of new bone mass
  • basically any kind of physical activity such as jogging or swimming is good
  • regular stretching protects against shortening of the muscle fibers
  • an adequate calcium supply (1200 milligrams per day) as well as vitamin D and a lot of exercise protect against osteoporosis
  • if certain hormones drop too much (in men, for example, testosterone), hormone therapy under medical supervision may help
  • In old age in particular, it is important to drink plenty of water so that the body’s vital functions are maintained
  • drink little alcohol, do not smoke
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Sources

  • 1. Cleveland Clinic: How You Can Avoid Losing Height as You Get Older (aufgerufen am 9.8.2022)
  • 2. Huang W, Lei X, Ridder G, et. al. (2013). Health, Height, Height Shrinkage, and SES at Older Ages: Evidence from China. American Economic Journal.
  • 3. Jain U, Ma M. Height. (2020). Shrinkage, health and mortality among older adults: Evidence from Indonesia. Economics and Human Biology.
  • 4. Brjörkelund C., Lissner L., Bengtsson C. et al. (2012) Prospective Population Study of Women in Göteborg (PPSW). Swedish National Data Service.
  • 5. Techniker Krankenkasse: Osteoporosis – When bones become brittle (accessed on 08/09/2022)

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