Shrinking With Age? Why Your Height and Brain Function Decline with Age: Stay Strong and Smart
Increase in Years = Decrease in Height
- Decrease in Height = Decrease in Brain Function
- Reduce Your Risk of Shrinking with Age with 7 Tips for Staying Tall
“But I swore I was 5’6” during my last visit!”
Is something you might say to your healthcare practitioner when he or she evaluates your height chart, you’re not alone. Shrinking — losing height as you age — can occur as early as your 30s.
In fact, men gradually lose an inch between 30 and 70. Women can lose about two inches during that time period. After 80, most people lose another inch.
You “shrink,” or become shorter with age, because the discs between your vertebrae become dehydrated and compressed. As a result, your spine becomes more curved as vertebrae collapse because of bone density loss.
That, along with loss of muscle in your torso, can create the stooped posture you sometimes see in elderly people. Height loss can also increase your risk of hip and other nonvertebral fractures that become more common as you grow older.
For some people, losing height as they age can be perfectly normal, if not exactly flattering. But for others, height loss can indicate underlying health problems. Height loss can:
- Be the result of a compression fracture or other skeletal conditions.
- Occur because of metabolic and physiological changes in your body.
- Be a marker for poor health in general or poor nutrition.
Stooping doesn’t look good, but it can also contribute to problems such as osteoporosis. This serious disease weakens your bones and increases your risk of fractures.
Osteoporosis doesn’t always provide warning signs. It can develop without symptoms or pain. Only when they suffer a painful fracture do most people realize they have this disease. In the long term, osteoporosis can create pain, disability, and risk for more broken bones.
Aging happens, but you do have some control over how much you shrink. Slouching, not exercising consistently, smoking, drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, extreme dieting, and poor nutrition can all make you shrink faster.
Make sure to consult with your healthcare practitioner if you have any concerns about your bone health or have symptoms of skeletal problems. While shrinking with age can be harmless and natural, it could also indicate serious underlying health conditions.
Decrease in Height = Decrease in Brain Function
Shrinkage occurs with your height as you get older, but it also happens in your brain.
As you age, your brain — particularly the frontal cortex — shrinks in volume. After 40, your brain’s volume and/or weight declines about five percent each decade. Around 70, that decline increases even more.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure why our brains shrink, but they have some ideas. As blood vessels age, blood becomes harder to get to your brain and other organs. The risk of stroke and other brain problems increases. Aging also means memory decline. Altogether, this spells bad news for your brain.
Losing the cells or neurons that help your brain communicate — called brain atrophy — happens slowly as you grow older. Disease-related atrophy including stroke or Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, occurs more quickly.
You can actually slow aging and reduce your risk for dementia and other age-related brain problems. While brain shrinkage happens as you get older, you can minimize its impact.
One study found four specific factors could increase brain shrinkage or decline:
- High blood pressure
- Cigarette smoking
- Being overweight or obese
Also, the more alcohol you drink regularly, the lower your brain volume.
What this and other studies show is empowering: A certain amount of decline in your brain and body naturally occurs with age. Yet you have plenty of control over shrinkage as you grow older.
Traditional thinking says that our brains hit a peak in our 20s and then decline. In other words, as we get older, our brains shrink and we become “dumber.” But newer studies show that’s not true. Rather than decline, the brain changes as we grow older.
In fact, some abilities — like reading others’ emotions and recalling recent events — improve until we turn 30. Other mental skills, such as basic math and vocabulary, can improve until we hit midlife.
Focusing on these strengths while minimizing the weaknesses that can come with age allows you to maintain a healthy, fully functioning brain as you grow older.
Reduce Your Risk of Shrinking with Age with 7 Tips for Staying Tall
Problems like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes can impact heart health, but we sometimes overlook how they can also affect brain health. Put another way, what impacts your body also affects your brain.
When you address these issues — the obesity and chronic disease that can negatively impact your body — you also address brain health. These seven strategies can keep you smart, strong, improve your brain function, and keep you at the height you are throughout your life.
- Eat the right diet. A healthy diet — especially rich in calcium and vitamin D — can reduce your risk of age-related conditions such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain cancers. Likewise, nutrient-dense foods such as cold-water fatty fish, blueberries, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, spices like turmeric, and even dark chocolate can support a healthy brain at any age. Our Core and Advanced Nutrition Plans contain plenty of these and other anti-aging foods.
- Work your brain. Healthy people keep their brain active as they get older. Learn a new language, take an online class, and try new things like driving a different route to work or a new restaurant. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and other games can also improve memory and overall brain function. They can also reduce your risk for dementia and other brain disorders.
- Get the right exercise. Consistent exercise that includes weight resistance can reduce age-related shrinkage. Other studies show that regular aerobic exercise such as a vigorous walk can boost the size of your hippocampus, the part of your brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Regular exercise can also optimize other age-related issues including insulin resistance and inflammation. Find fitness you enjoy and do it regularly!
- Manage stress levels. Too much stress spells bad news for your body and brain. Chronic stress can contribute to numerous diseases, but it can also kill brain cells. Stress can also reduce the size of your brain, especially shrinking the area of your brain responsible for memory and learning. Strategies to manage stress and reduce its impact include regular exercise, socializing, and finding purpose in your life.
- Keep a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for diabetes. That and other conditions can impact your risk for brain-related diseases like dementia. Keeping your blood sugar steady helps you stay lean and healthy. Our Core and Advanced Nutrition Plans incorporate plenty of healthy, blood sugar-stabilizing foods that keep you full, satisfied, and energetic as you reach your goal weight and optimize your health. Work with your healthcare practitioner to design a specific plan that helps you lose weight and keep it off.
- Maintain sleep hygiene. If you have trouble concentrating after a terrible night’s sleep, it could be in your head: Sleeplessness can affect memory and learning. You’re also less likely to be mindful about good posture, which can take its toll on your spine over time. Good sleep demands the right hygiene. Turn off electronics and take a hot bath. Use a supplement if necessary to maintain your eight or more hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night.
- Keep your spine healthy. The disks between the spine’s vertebrae can shrink and lose moisture as you get older. That decline can create problems such as disk degeneration and narrowing of the spinal canal. You shrink as a result, but you also increase risk for other problems including back pain. Regular exercise, maintaining proper posture, and protecting your spine against excessive strain can minimize this problem. So can chiropractic care, which optimizes spinal health by addressing age-related problems. Your chiropractor is your best ally to minimize shrinkage!
Everybody shrinks a little as they grow older. Your body and your brain do. But you needn’t surrender to stooped posture, foggy brain, and an increased risk for problems like osteoporosis and dementia as you age.