We all grow. From the time we are born, our bodies continuously grow and get bigger. (Sometimes not in a direction that we may want!) But, have you ever noticed the curious phenomenon that as you grow up, at one point you start growing down?
If you’ve reached your mid-fifties or later, go ahead, measure yourself. Chances are you’ll discover something peculiar. You’ve shrunk. Perhaps just half an inch, perhaps an inch, perhaps even more. A lot of people have always wanted to drop a size or two, right? Well, probably not in this way. Unless you take steps to reverse this trend, by the time you reach your 70s, you’ll likely have lost 2-3 inches in height. While shrinking an inch or two in height is generally nothing to worry about (except when you never even made it to 5 feet!), the processes that cause the reduction in size are something you should care about.
Two main processes are involved in this loss of height. First, as you age, the discs between your vertebrae lose moisture and dry out. Healthy discs act as shock absorbers for the spine and keep the spine flexible. When they dry out, they become less supple and provide less of a cushioning effect. Worse, drier discs change shape and become flatter and thinner, making them more prone to injury and to the kind of degenerative changes that may lead to chronic back pain down the road.
The second factor in the shrinking equation is the age-related deterioration of posture, which begins to set in as early as age 25. At that point, the soft tissues begin to weaken and give in to the relentless pull of gravity. With the advent of smart phones, the deterioration of posture may even start earlier.
For most people, the first visible sign of a deteriorating posture is called Forward Head Posture. This is exactly what it sounds like. A Forward Head Posture is characterized by the head being at an angle in front of the shoulders and the presence of an exaggerated curvature of the upper spine. And here is the bad news: if you don’t do anything about it, you set yourself up for a host of health problems down the road.
Posture is an important dimension of fitness that you can’t afford to ignore. If you already have an exercise routine, it’s important to add a posture balancing component to it. Fitness routines like Yoga and Pilates that build core strength are a great place to start. Yoga is particularly useful because it trains the spine to keep functioning in all six planes of motion. This in turn keeps the discs lubricated and moist, counteracting the drying out of the discs that is the other factor in losing height.
Nothing has greater impact on your posture than your day-to-day habits, so you can get great results from keeping awareness of your posture throughout the day. It takes time and patience to rebuild posture. You must build new muscle mass to hold you upright and reshape tissues that have frozen into the wrong shape. However, the simple act of straightening up throughout the day can change your life. As you regain your normal spinal curves and open your posture, you will begin to feel better all over. You will also be laying a safer foundation for your long-term health. As you develop a more youthful posture, your body will become increasingly attractive, graceful, and ageless. It’s well worth the time and attention.