I have always thought of myself as medium-tall(ish). At 5’6,” that’s almost 2 ½” taller than the average woman who was born in the U.S. Although I have a lot of female friends who are taller than I am, I have enough friends of shorter stature to make me feel relatively vertically endowed. I’m always pleased to help when someone asks me to pluck an item from a top store shelf for them.
My drivers license says that I am 5’6,” medical documents say I’m 5’6,” my passport and global entry records say I’m 5’6.” Anywhere I’ve been asked to indicate my height information, I’ve written 5’6.”
Apparently, I am no longer 5’6.”
At a recent doctor appointment, a nurse not only asked me to stand on a scale (they never take our word for it, do they?), but to take off my shoes and have my height measured with a stadiometer. No problem… until I asked her how tall I was.
I am aware that people generally shrink as they get older. Research indicates that women lose an average of 2 inches between the ages of 30 and 70 (and just over 3 inches by age 80). Men don’t lose quite as much on average – 1 inch by 70, and 2 inches by age 80. There is a huge variability in the amount lost and at what age, but just about all of us will shrink.
I just wasn’t aware that it had happened to me.
Normal age-related shrinkage is often due to the dehydration and compression of the discs between the vertebrae in the spine. In addition, our aging spines can become more curved and we lose bone density. Even the flattening of our arches can cause us to be shorter.
Shrinkage can also indicate other health issues, including an increased risk of bone fractures. Several studies have found that people over 65 who lost at least 2 inches in the past 15 to 20 years were at significantly higher risk for hip fracture than those who shrank less. That’s why it’s important to get measured at least once a year (don’t just fill in a box with how tall you think you are).
Most of the causes of shrinkage – including genetics – are out of our control, but we can take steps to protect our bones and muscles now. Weight-bearing exercise, ensuring adequate levels of calcium, vitamin D, and other bone-healthy nutrients, not drinking alcohol to excess, and not smoking, can all help mitigate the downward progression.
So now I am trying to come to terms with not being 5’6” and I’m not very happy about it. I am no longer tall(ish)… I’m closer to average. And, if I don’t want to become an even mini-er me, I’d better do what I can to stop the shrinkage now.