A client recently reported to me that during her annual check-up with her doctor, both her Doc and the Nurse remarked that she had gotten taller. This client is not yet fifty, but is past the age in which gaining height is normal. This seems quite a remarkable happenstance, that a middle-aged woman can gain height over the course of a year, but it certainly can and I will use some physics concepts to explain why (resident iNform Astrophysicist Ash Sinclair will be well pleased…).
Entropy and Posture
The phenomenon of Entropy applies to all matter in existence. Put simply, it is the unavoidable tendency for things to move from a more ordered to a more disordered state. This quality is why the arrow of time travels only in one direction. This of course applies to us: Our physical body degrades over time and at some point in the future it will become dust, and then it will continue to degrade until our body is nothing more than uniform subatomic particles. That’s a nice thought isn’t it?!
Certainly if you look at our entire population as we age you will see a reasonably uniform rate of degradation across a wide number of our systems, our musculoskeletal system and the posture it produces is one such example. The rate in which our posture degrades (or collapses) is largely determined by time and gravity. Let me go back a step. Let’s think of age being merely an accumulation of time, and more precisely relating to our posture, an accumulation of time under gravity. Gravity is a force that is inescapable on earth, and it relentlessly pushes (or pulls, I forget which) us downwards towards the centre of the earth.
Our posture collapsing into the slouched, hunched position we so easily asign to aging is merely the accumulation of time under gravity. But time doing what exactly? We do have an active neuromuscular system which is more than capable of countering gravity’s relatively weak force here on earth. If we were living on a neutron star, where the gravitation field is around 2×10 to the eleventh power greater than that of the earth’s then we would struggle to stay upright, but fortunately we don’t.
So perhaps that typical elderly posture is resultant from an accumulation of time under gravity without adequate engagement of our neuromuscular system. Or in English, lots of time doing very little. So over the course of inactive time our intervertebral discs become more compressed and lose fluid, our vertebral bodies slowly collapse and the weight of our head drags our sternum down and curves our upper back.
What if on the other hand, we were strengthening our postural muscles a few times per week?
The equation would then read ‘an accumulation of time actively resisting the force of gravity’ which would mean we would get stronger or develop greater neuromuscular tone as we get older (or at least dramatically slow the rate of degradation). We know that movement is great for re-hydrating discs and that weight bearing activity helps to strengthen both our bones and the muscles and nerves that use them.
If we started postural strength training during our middle-aged years, particularly if we have had a reasonably sedentary job in the preceding years it would almost certainly result in an increase in height, as we would be standing up taller. This is proven to me consistently when comparing postural photos during reviews with clients. From a postural point of view, clients often look younger as the photos become more recent.
The next question is- was it my client that got taller or did the Doctor and Nurse shrink? I may have to drop them off some business cards!!