Oct. 7, 2011 at 4:56 PM ET
You're not imagining it: You're shrinking. And as the years slip by, you're just going to keep getting shorter. This morning, TODAY contributor Dr. Roshini Raj explains the phenomenon discussed in a Wall Street Journal story last month.
"A little bit of shrinking is a normal part of aging, and it happens because of three things, basically," Raj says. First, as we age, the discs between our vertebrates lose fluid, so they flatten a bit and your vertebrates "simply come together, so your spine is actually shrinking a little bit," Raj explains.
The arches of your feet also tend to flatten a bit as we age. Finally, we lose muscle mass as we age -- especially in our abdomen, which leads to poorer posture -- which gives the appearance of being shorter.
On average, we shrink about a quarter to a third of an inch per decade for every decade after 40. All told, men will get about 1.2 to 1.5 inches shorter, and women will lose up to 2 inches, by age 70. "For men it's less prominent because they have more muscle mass in general and their bones tend to be stronger they lose less height," Raj says.
If you're losing more inches than that, it could be a sign of osteoporosis -- very weak or brittle bones that make you more prone to fractures. Check it out with your doctor. Smoking excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption and not exercising can also make you more prone to losing height, Raj explains.
But you can stop yourself from shrinking too much by regularly exercising -- especially weight-bearing exercises like jogging or running, or other activities that work the legs and the hips. A diet rich in vitamin D and calcium also helps -- try almonds, broccoli or kale, or you can take supplements. One last trick: Maintaining a good posture keeps your bones healthy, and keeps stress off your vertebrae.
Do you think you're getting shorter as you age? Do you remember watching a parent or grandparent get smaller as the years went on? Leave a comment telling us about it.