Why do I lose height with age and what is the “medicine” to slow down the descent

Daniel Bores Garcia, King Juan Carlos University

“At your age I was very tall” or “young people go up, old people go down” are expressions that we frequently hear from people who are in their third age.

From the phylogenetic point of view, it is known that throughout the history of the human being there have been phases of a considerable increase in average height for environmental and socioeconomic reasons.

But is it true that you lose height with age? Is there a scientific basis for this variation at the ontogenetic level? The answer is yes.

The decrease in height with age, together with the variation of other anthropometric, physiological and neuromuscular parameters, is a reality in human beings regardless of their race and sex.

From the age of forty, there is an average loss of almost one centimeter every ten years. This variation may be greater after the seventies. Thus, an adult person of 180 centimeters in height could see his height reduced to 173 centimeters at the end of his life.

There are three basic factors involved in this decline. The first is the degeneration and dehydration of the intervertebral discs. A small reduction in each, multiplied by the 23 disks in the spine, translates into significant height loss.

Second, osteoporosis. This can be idiopathic, postmenopausal or senile. It also occurs on other occasions due to hematological, endocrinological, gastrointestinal diseases…

Finally, the loss of muscle tone (which in muscles with an eminently postural action reduces their holding and erector capacity).

Aging: law of life

Despite the advances in science and the huge amounts of money invested in increasing life expectancy, the aging of the body is an inevitable fact.

Those aspirations to immortality remain for the myth, although some claim it at the stroke of a checkbook. Muscles, bones and joints reach their highest performance in adulthood, practically halfway through a person’s life.

But there are several decades ahead in which there is a gradual deterioration in the musculoskeletal system, among others, through a decrease in bone density, sarcopenia (or loss of muscle mass) or joint deterioration. Remember that the loss of bone density is even more pronounced in women with menopause. They can see their bone mass reduced by up to 17.6% in the lumbar region.

Although a recent article estimates the maximum life expectancy that human beings could reach between 120 and 150 years, the truth is that in Western societies of the 21st century the challenge is no longer to increase the years of life but rather the quality of the same, no matter how many they are.

The cited article clearly expresses the existence of an urgent and immovable biological limit, regardless of exogenous factors. Therefore, it seems wise to reflect on the actions that can be carried out to slow down the deterioration caused by age and thus be able to enjoy greater vital well-being.

An active life, the best medicine against the passage of time

In a society like the current one, with work activity that is not very demanding on energy and leisure time that is even more static, the danger of physical inactivity is no longer just on the horizon. It already fills hospitals and pharmacies with people with diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

This dysfunction appears in all population age levels: from childhood, which leads to a true pandemic of childhood obesity in the most developed countries, to the elderly.

The World Health Organization makes a series of weekly physical activity recommendations for each age group. For example, for adults, it advises between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity and between 75 and 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity.

In addition, it suggests the additional performance of two weekly sessions of work with loads given its proven benefits such as the reduction of the risk of suffering from osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. It also contributes positively to sleep and reduces the risk of depression.

The combination of aerobic component exercise (running, cycling or swimming, among others) with strength training not only has physical and quantifiable effects, but also in the psychological aspect, since it has a positive impact on the self-perception of the level of physical health .

Therefore, if we go back to the three basic factors that we talked about at the beginning for a loss of height with age, the exercise will slow down the process, as long as we practice it regularly (and if it is prescribed, that it is always by qualified personnel).

Sport will stop the degeneration and loss of density of all bones in general, including those involved in standing. In addition, it will help develop the neuromuscular system, favoring the muscular actions of erection, control and balance of the body. Thus, keeping our bones and muscles healthy will allow us to maintain our height for longer.

Go up the stairs and walk to the supermarket

Let us not forget that in addition to the regular practice of physical exercise we will obtain incalculable benefits from the so-called NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), which is the caloric expenditure that occurs in our metabolism at other times of the day than those reserved for exercise.

Seemingly minor changes such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking twenty minutes instead of taking the bus, or going shopping every day at the neighborhood stores (instead of doing it once a week by car) can Make a Difference.

Strengthening our bones, muscles, joints and organs is in our hands. We will not be able to stretch our lives to infinity, but we can make decisions so that the years we live are loaded with health.The Conversation

Daniel Bores García, Area of ​​Physical and Sports Education, King Juan Carlos University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

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