When I was a little girl, I used to worry about getting old, because I knew I would no longer be able to speak English. After all, everyone I knew over the age of fifty spoke broken English with a heavy Eastern European accent. In my four year old mind, it was a logical conclusion that this was a natural part of aging. I once asked my mother what I would do when I was a Baba and couldn’t speak English anymore. She laughed so hard she couldn’t speak. Uh-oh, perhaps it was already happening to her. Sad, because she still looked so young.
It’s a funny story, but the point is that we sometimes get predetermined ideas about the aging process, and we think that we have to sit back and accept certain inevitable changes. Sometimes these expectations are silly, like I had when I was a child. But sometimes, these expectations may cause us to be resigned to certain changes, especially when they come from experts.
I recently read an article that proclaimed getting shorter was a natural part of the aging process. According to the article, this shrinking begins at age thirty, and we lose one half to three quarters of an inch each decade after that. Along with this disheartening news came the laundry list of projected health problems that we can look forward to related to our height loss and the aging process, including bone loss, osteoporosis, decreased balance and fractures. The list also included heart and digestive problems, related to the increased pressure put on internal organs as a result of the flexed posture that comes with aging. Yikes!
But these dire predictions aren’t inevitable. You can prevent the loss of height by staying active and doing practices that help stretch your spine and improve your posture. Activities such as dance, yoga, tai chi and my personal favorites, Pilates and Feldenkrais, will help you stay strong and supple as you get older. As you add birthdays, you do not have to settle for subtracting inches, simply because the experts told you that’s what you can expect.
I have always been a planner and a problem solver. Even as a very small child, I thought about taking English lessons as I got older so I would still be able to speak the language. I have also always been a talker, and the idea that people wouldn’t understand me was simply intolerable. Here I am, well into middle age, and I still have a fairly good command of the English language. I’m also the same height that I was in college. But according to the article I should be an inch and a half to two inches shorter by now.
So, instead of settling for what the experts tell us is sure to happen, I have another idea. Let’s prove the experts wrong, and show them what graceful aging looks like. Let’s do what we can to keep our spines (and ourselves) long, strong, fit and flexible. After all, why in the world would we settle for less, when we simply don’t have to?
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP