By John Voelz – Doctor of Physical Therapy
At a certain time in life, many people become surprised when they realize that they are not as tall as they were 20 or 30 years ago. After age 40, the average adult can expect to lose ½ inch of height per decade with even greater loss occurring after age 70. Much of the blame can be put on gravity which results in compression along with normal wear and tear on joints including the spine.
The human body is made up mainly of bone, connective tissues, muscle, fat, organs, and water. The aging process is associated with changes in each of these tissues, and usually involves loss of cells, reduction in water, and/or weakening of the specific tissue. The most noticeable and serious changes include decreased bone density, decreased muscle mass, and accumulation of fat.
Age related changes in the structure and shape of the spine are probably the greatest culprit when considering why we shrink with age. Some experts believe that loss of fluid in the discs between each vertebra contributes to overall height loss due to flattening of each disc.
Others believe that bone weakening due to osteoporosis leads to micro-fractures in the vertebrae. These tiny cracks accumulate and, although not painful, can decrease the height of the thick vertebral body. So although each segment of the spine may show only a tiny reduction in height, the fact that you have 24 vertebrae makes an accumulation of small changes turn into a significant decrease in overall length of the spine.
Post-menopausal woman experience hormonal changes that can make bone loss even more of a concern. A curvature of the spine called “kyphosis” can result in a stooped posture. And although minor, even loss of hip and knee joint cartilage (osteoarthritis) can reduce height. So the take home message is that there are several factors that cause age related loss of height. The good news is that many of these can be prevented, decreased, or delayed.
Here are a few suggestions to limit bone and muscle loss……..
*Eating a healthy diet with adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D is extremely important. Talk to your doctor about adding any supplements to your diet. Muscle and bone tissue need adequate nutrition to stay strong.
*Weight bearing exercises (walking is a good example) that safely stress the muscles and bones cause these tissues to respond by making them more dense and resistant to the effects of gravity and wear & tear. This is especially true in the hips and spine, where osteoporosis often strikes.
*Strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints helps to keep the joints stable, reducing the amount of cartilage degradation. General strengthening exercises using machines or hand weights not only keep your muscles strong, but also strengthen your bones.
*Finally, if your doctor notices signs of osteopenia, this is a warning sign since it is the precursor to osteoporosis — diet and exercise become even more important at this point. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are several effective medications that will help you improve your bone density.
If you have any questions about different exercises that will help preserve muscle and bone health, please stop in and ask!!
Plus: Healthy Habits Key to Wellness will be offering yet another new service starting later in October! We will have available, here in the clinic, a Bone Density Scanner.
Analysis of your bone density can be performed on the recommended 5 year basis or as needed. More information will be forthcoming, but if you have any questions, please ask, and we’ll be happy to describe the new program.