No one likes the idea of shrinking in height as they age but the good news is Pilates can really help you to reach and maintain your full postural potential at all stages of life, especially into your later years.
We all know the stereotype of the "little old lady" or "little old man" whose body has given in to gravity. They have shrunken in height with their upper body curled forward, a hump on their upper back and if you add a walking stick and some coke bottle glasses, you have the classic cartoon or fairytale "old person." Shrinking in height can begin during our 40s, even a little earlier for some people and it's thought we lose approximately 2 cm - 4 cm sometimes more, from our peak height by the end of our lives. So let's look at why this happens and how you can use Pilates to maintain as much of your peak height as possible, so you can stay, strong, flexible, healthy and lengthened as you age.
Why do we shrink as we age?
There are a number of factors that can contribute to shrinking as we age but firstly let's look at gravity. If we remember back to science class at school we learned that the force of gravity is responsible for keeping us on earth. Without gravity, we would just float up into the atmosphere just as we have seen astronauts floating around, seemingly weightless in space. It's the strength of certain muscles that counterbalance this force of gravity, which keeps us grounded to the earth and also enables us to maintain an upright posture. When our postural muscles become weak, as can happen with age if they aren't actively strengthened, our posture is compromised. Our head starts to move forward, pulling on the upper spine leading to a rounded upper back and a loss in height. This loss of muscle mass is called sarcopenia and starts to occur approximately after the age of 30. If you are sedentary with limited physical activity you lose approximately 3 - 5 % of muscle mass each decade. Even if you are engaging in physical activity you still experience a small degree of muscle mass loss. The term "use it or lose it" is applicable when it comes to maintaining our muscle mass as we age.
Another cause of loss of height is the dehydration and compression of the intervertebral discs of the spine as we age. These discs are small fluid-filled sacs between each vertebra that acts as shock absorbers for the spine and a certain amount of deterioration occurs as we age. As the discs become smaller over time, there is less space between each vertebra which results in a gradual loss of height. If you have osteoporosis you are more susceptible to a fractured vertebra which can cause your spine to curve forward and again cause loss of height. Dropped arches in your feet can also cause you to lose height. I know this sounds daunting to overcome but there are several things we can do, including Pilates to counteract this and maintain our peak height.
Who is more at risk of losing height?
People who are physically inactive, have osteoporosis, degenerative disc disease and scoliosis are particularly at risk of losing their ability to maintain an upright posture throughout life. Some types of medication can cause loss of muscle mass too. Those with nutritionally deficient diets, a high alcohol intake and those who don't drink enough water to stay hydrated are also compromising their spinal health. Once your upper spine is curved forward resulting in a hunched upper back or kyphosis you are also putting yourself at risk of other health conditions. This can be painful as the back muscles are weaker and the organs become restricted which can compromise breathing. So losing height is something that we want to avoid or minimise and fortunately is preventable for many people. The younger you begin to work towards maintaining good spinal health and maintaining your peak height, the better, but it's never too late to start making improvements to your condition.
How can we maintain height with Pilates?
Pilates is the ideal solution for maintaining our health and fitness throughout life, ensuring we maintain our peak height in our later years. It provides so many benefits, but being able to tailor a Pilates exercise program to individual needs makes it even more targeted and specific, ensuring maximum results. Strengthening of the core, gluteal, back and foot muscles contributes to maintaining our full postural potential which supports our spines and helps us to withstand gravity. Balance and proprioception are also vital and Pilates provides this as well. Building and maintaining healthy bones is vital for everyone but is particularly important if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis. Pilates uses resistance and weights which increases bone density. If you are dealing with the loss of bone density your Pilates exercise program can be targeted towards improving this. Pilates is one of the few exercise methods that includes foot exercises and maintaining strong flexible feet and lower limbs also contributes to maintaining good posture and overall health. Increased body awareness is another benefit of Pilates and the more mentally aware you are of maintaining good posture on a daily basis, the more you will reinforce your Pilates training. With its versatility and focus on strengthening the postural and stabiliser muscles, Pilates really does provide everything we need to prevent shrinking as we age. If you would like to start your Pilates journey now you can take the free 10 day trial
and start straight away.
How else can we maintain peak height?
When you are practicing Pilates you want to support your practice by ensuring you have a healthy diet and include nutrients for bone health
such as Vitamin D and Calcium. A healthy diet should also include enough protein to build muscle. Ensure you drink enough water for your overall health but also to keep the vertebral discs hydrated and prevent them from drying out and compressing. Staying physically active with weight-bearing exercise you enjoy such as walking is very beneficial especially if you are able to participate in challenging walks depending on your individual capabilities. Avoiding excessive alcohol intake and smoking helps too.
As you can see there many things you can do to ensure that you don't become one of the stereotypical, fairytale "little old people." It's never too early to begin your Pilates journey towards reaching your postural potential throughout your life. If you have any questions please email me at [email protected],
it would be my pleasure to assist you on your Pilates journey!