Why Shrinking as You Age Is a Big Problem
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Help! The Tallest Girl in the Class Is Now Shrinking

Here's what you can do about it.

School photo of a girl and she's shrinking in the frame
Paul Spella

Two years ago, at my annual physical, I stepped on the scale, eyes forward, while the nice nurse lowered the height rod onto the crown of my head — and casually said, “5’8”. OK. Let’s get your weight.”

An appalled me said, “One second there … I must have been slouching … I’m 5’8” and a half.

Nice nurse measured again. “I’m getting 5’8”.”

“Well, somebody needs to check this scale.”

“Fine,” she said, writing down my opinion. (Nurses are very busy.) “5’8" and a half.

Then this year (different nurse), when I got on the scale, standing all straight and erect, I heard: “5’7” and a half.”

“Excuse me?”

“5’7” and a half.”

“That absolutely cannot be right.”

I refused to get off the scale until I could stretch my neck higher. Admittedly, it's a pose one cannot sustain on a long-term basis, but it was enough to get me back to 5’8”.

But the short and short of it is: I’m shrinking. Not only do my pant hems need adjusting, so does my self-image. I’m supposed to be tall.

The summer I turned 13, I grew 4 inches. I left seventh grade clocking in at 5’2”. Entered eighth at 5’6”. I’d always been the girl assigned to a desk in the back of the classroom; the one standing in the top row of the annual class photo. I balanced books on her head to improve that slump-shouldered posture.

And, oh, the agony of seventh grade dance class, sitting partnerless on the sidelines, wearing my requisite little white gloves, painfully smiling like I was having the time of my life, when the instructor assigned a boy to dance with tall me. We were moments into our ballroom steps when my partner turned to another boy and said, “Wanna trade?” only to have him say, “No way.”

Excuse me a moment while I call a therapist. Thanks to some voodoo — well, maybe it was bloodwork — our family doctor predicted I’d end up over 6 feet tall. My mother was positive her gangly little giraffe would never find a husband. This was before Nicole Kidman married Tom Cruise and made taller wives acceptable.

Faster than you can say and-forget-ever-wearing-high-heels, I was given little red nausea-producing pills that brought on my period. Nowadays, using hormones to stunt a girl’s growth would be considered akin to malpractice, but at the time, it seemed like an inspired solution.

I did manage to find a husband. Two, for that matter. And I learned to appreciate my height. Clothes do “hang well” on me; it’s not difficult to spot me in a crowd; and never underestimate the ability to reach the top shelf in a grocery store.

But now, well, there’s that shrinking problem.

Here’s how height loss is explained in a February 2021 newsletter from the Mayo Clinic Health System: “You have 24 bones, or vertebrae, in your spine. Discs between each vertebra begin to lose strength and become thinner as you age. When these vertebrae begin to thin out, you will start to shrink little by little.”

That’s right, vertebrae. We’re blaming you.

New Yorker Laurie Rosenfield, who hit 6 feet by age 14, recalls how she “couldn’t be a cheerleader. And I was intimidating to guys, even though I didn’t feel intimidating. I’m probably shorter now, but everyone else is shorter, so I don’t really notice it.”

Yep, we might not even be aware we’re heading south until a nurse with a measuring rod makes it official.

A five-year study published in 2018 from the National Institutes of Health, following more than 1,000 postmenopausal women, showed an average height loss of .4 inches over the five-year span. But the good news is, losing height is not a given.

Sara Greenwood, 5’11”, from Naples, Florida, has two sisters who are also tall. Their dad was 6’4” and their mom 5’3”. “My mother never lost any height,” Greenwood says. “She just had incredibly good posture. I think she willed herself to stay at her height. She was keen on being as tall as she could in her group of giants.”

My mom lost 4 inches by the time she hit 93. Her upper back developed a curve. Her stomach popped out — physiologically, it had to go somewhere. While writing this, I just glanced down at my own puffed stomach. I’ve seen the future. And it looks like: Mom. But there are things we can do including all the ones we’ve been told about a million times: jog, walk, eat a healthy diet, take up aerobics or lift weights. According to Tammy Wise, author of The Art of Strength: Sculpt the Body — Train the Mind: “This is when it’s preferable to have some extra weight on your bones. The thinner you are, the less weight you’re carrying. Weightlifting of any type —using Dyna-Bands, dumbbells, gym machines — will help your body produce more calcium. And calcium is the building block of bone strength.”

Stacy Yochum, from Chevy Chase, Maryland, who describes her height as “just under" 5’10”, says, “The day I start lining up eye to eye with my friends — I’ll know I’m shrinking. I started paying attention to my bones the minute I went through menopause, exercising and eating lots of calcium, both pills and food.”

I’m already an inch or so too late, but I am trying. I’ve upped my intake of yogurt and take Vitamin D. I now own Dyna-Bands and admit they work much better on days I actually use them. I hope I do slow down my thinning bones. But if not, well, the good news is, the next time I attend a seventh grade ballroom class, maybe I’ll get asked to dance.

Does anyone else feel as though they are shrinking? Let us know in the comments below.

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