Do you shrink with age? Research shows we do. Unless you have a bone disease, shrinking in height is considered a normal part of aging. People typically start to shrink after the age of 40 and lose about half an inch each decade. After the age of 80, it’s possible for both men and women to lose another inch. The reason we shrink is because our spine compresses. As we age, the skeletal gel-like disks between our vertebrae in the spine can lose fluid, dehydrate, and thin out causing us to lose height. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent shrinking with age – and it doesn’t require hanging upside down from a pull-up bar to stretch every day. Find out how to prevent shrinking below.
The best exercises for building and maintaining strong bones are weight-bearing exercises that use your legs and feet to support your weight. Exercises such as running, jumping, hiking, brisk walking, jumping rope, climbing stairs, weight training, dancing, and tennis put stress on your bones that signal your body to add new cells to strengthen them. For the best results, combine aerobics with your weight-bearing exercises to increase bone density. A study published in Gerontology found that people who did moderate aerobic exercise throughout their lives shrank less than those who were sedentary or stopped exercising after age 40. There are a number of indoor exercises you can do at home. If you have Medicare Advantage (Part C), you may be eligible to join SilverSneakers, a free senior fitness program, offered by many insurance plans. For more information about SilverSneakers, read: What Is the SilverSneakers Program?
Do back stretches.
Back stretching exercises target muscles in the back for increased flexibility and range of motion in the joints. They also help you stand up straight and improve your posture. Strengthen your back by implementing a regular yoga or Pilates practice, daily stretches (e.g., supermans, the 90 lat stretch, child’s pose, inchworms, glute bridge), or stretches with stability balls. The Spine Health Institute recommends several simple exercises for spine health to get you started.
Give bones the nutrients they need.
Calcium and vitamin D are key to building strong and healthy bones – but vitamin C and vitamin K also plan an important role in bone health.
Calcium: About 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth. On average, women need 1,000 mg and men need 1,200 mg of calcium daily. The best sources of calcium come from food, which include diary, almonds, broccoli, kale, salmon, and soy products, such as tofu.
Vitamin D: Your body requires vitamin D to help absorb the calcium that keeps bones protected, healthy, and strong. Without enough vitamin D, you may lose bone, have lower bone density, or be more likely to break bones as you age. Top sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, fortified milk, and oily fish like wild-caught mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna. Food labels will indicate if vitamin D has been added to a particular product. You can also absorb vitamin D from the sun’s ultra-violet light (UVB rays). Vitamin D supplements may benefit bone health, but some studies indicate these supplements may not actually help prevent bone loss or fractures. In general, experts recommend a daily intake of 600 mg of vitamin D up to age 70 and 800 mg daily after the age of 70.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is necessary for normal bone development and forming collagen, the fibrous protein part of bone, cartilage, and other structures. The recommended intake of vitamin C is 75 mg daily for women and 90 mg daily for men. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, and parsley.
Vitamin K: Vitamin K-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, parsley, prunes, avocados or kiwi have been linked with low bone density, an increase in bone strength and a decrease of fractures in people suffering from osteoporosis. Research indicates that vitamin K positively affects calcium balance, a key mineral in bone metabolism, and works synergistically with vitamin D to increase bone density. Vitamin K is measured in micrograms (mcg), not milligrams (mg), and the Institute of Medicine recommends daily intakes of 90 mcg for females and 120 mcg for males.
Avoid cigarettes and alcohol.
Some studies have shown a direct relationship between tobacco use and decreased bone density. Smoking is believed to damage bones, increase the risk of a fracture, and slow down the healing process after a fracture. Click here to learn about the most effective ways to quit smoking.
Chronic and heavy alcohol use has been linked to low bone mass, decreased bone formation, an increased incidence of fractures, and delayed fracture healing. Alcohol can interfere with hormone production which is needed to absorb calcium and it can also make it harder for your body to use calcium. Experts suggest drinking alcohol in moderation of no more than one drink per day, which equates to one: 12 fluid ounce beer, 5 fluid ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces distilled spirit (80 proof).
If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, click here to learn about addiction services covered by Medicare. As always, talk to your doctor before making changes to your physical fitness activities and consuming certain foods, drinks, and supplements, especially if you’re taking medications. Learn which foods and drinks may not mix with certain medications here: Prescription Drug and Food Interactions to Watch Out For.
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