Height Loss In Old Age Preventable Even If You Start Late

Height loss in your older years is not only preventable, but the lifestyle choices you make that help you stand tall also keep your brain sharper. That’s the conclusion of a study from an international team of economists at the University of Southern California, Harvard University, and Peking University, published in the April American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

Wait, I can hear you thinking. Now the economists are giving health advice? The doctors don’t nag us enough?

Well, the kicker is that the researchers actually used demographic and economic data to follow how much height over 17,700 people in China over age 45 lost as they aged. Now, we all know that populations tend to stand taller if children get better nutrition at early ages. And maybe some of us figured that, once we’re adults, it’s a bit too late to do anything about our height.

It’s true that you can’t make yourself grow taller in adulthood. But you can keep more of the height you already have if you’re educated and aware. For example, the study showed that illiterate men lost about 25 percent more height in old age than men who finished primary school. Men who finished high school held onto almost 60 percent more height than the illiterate group.

People who lived in cities also experienced less height loss than rural people — which again is probably linked to education or at least informal observation of what the people around you are eating and doing.

Now, assuming you’re a reasonably well-educated person who lives in a reasonably sophisticated area, then you probably know all the usual lifestyle stuff. Eat healthy food, exercise, don’t smoke … blah blah blah. However, if you don’t put your education to work, you’re probably not going to magically stay tall just by the miracle of osmosis.

In the 21st century, many Americans have been outraged to discover that the average US man is getting shorter, while the average European gets taller. Although we were once the tallest nation in the world, the the citizens of the Netherlands have soared to the top, with the average Dutch man now standing over six feet tall.

Munich, Germany professor John Gomlos told Good Morning America that, “It’s well known that the Americans held the title for 200 years.” But now the average American man is only five foot ten, compared to the Dutch male height of six foot one.

With an aging population in both countries, Team USA is probably not going to take back the crown from the Netherlands any time soon. But if the new research is right, we can make smarter lifestyle choices to hold off some of the height loss.

[exercise with trainer photo courtesy LocalFitness.com.au via Wikipedia Commons]