Height loss in middle age may increase death risk, study shows

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In a new study from the University of Gothenburg, researchers found height loss in middle age is linked to a heightened risk of early death, primarily from heart disease or stroke.

But regular physical activity may help to stave off mid-life shrinkage, as well as lowering heart disease risk.

People tend to start losing height once they reach their 50s, a process that speeds up during their 70s. Height loss is usually caused by vertebral disc shrinkage, spinal compression fractures, and changes in posture.

While some degree of height loss is linked to natural aging, previous research suggests that it may also be associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease.

Height loss in women has not been well studied, however, despite the fact that women tend to lose more height than men.

In the study, the team aimed to find out if mid-life height loss might predict death from all causes, and specifically death from heart disease/stroke, in 2406 Swedish and Danish women born between 1908 and 1952.

Height was measured without shoes and in the morning, at the entry to each of these studies, when the women were aged between 30 and 60 (two-thirds were aged 38–52), and again between 10 and 13 years later.

The team found the women lost an average of 0.8 cm between the first and second height measurements, but the amount ranged from 0 to 14 cm.

During the total monitoring period of 19 years, 625 of the women died from all causes.

But during the 17 year period, heart disease was the primary cause of death in 157 women, which included 37 cases of stroke; 362 cases were due to other causes.

The team found Each cm of height loss was linked to 14% and 21% greater odds of death from any cause among the Swedish and Danish women, respectively, after adjusting for potentially influential factors.

They also found short stature and high leisure-time physical activity (including participation in competitive sports) at study entry were linked to less height loss.

Major height loss, defined as more than 2 cm, was linked to 74% and 80% greater odds of death, respectively, among two groups of women.

The team found that major height loss was linked to a more than doubling in the odds of death from stroke and all types of heart disease, and 71% greater odds of death from all other causes.

The findings prompt the researchers to conclude that mid-life height loss is a risk marker for earlier mortality in northern European women.

Specifically, the risk of heart disease is increased in women who lose height, with death from a stroke a major contributor to this association.

If you care about stroke, please read studies about these common prescribed drugs may strongly increase stroke risk and findings of these two food linked to higher risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

For more information about stroke and your health, please see recent studies about what a mini stroke is, and why you need to act FAST and results showing that a 47-year-old came home from a work trip and had two strokes.

The study is published in BMJ Open. One author of the study is Sofia Klingberg.

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