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Body Shape Change in Aging

As an individual ages, his or her body shape gradually changes. This is a normal part of aging. A person's body is made up of many different materials. These include fat, muscle, bone, water, and other substances. As an individual gets older, the amount and location of these materials change. This is clearly seen when one compares a small child, a middle-aged adult, and an older adult. The proportion of body fat often increases by as much as 30% as a person ages.

More of the fat is deposited toward the center of the body, much of it around the organs inside the abdomen. The increase in body fat mass is visible most often in the abdomen in men and on the thighs in women.

Other age-related changes in the body shape include:

  • a decrease in fat right under the skin, which causes the skin to become thinner and wrinkled
  • a decrease of roughly one centimeter in height for every 10 years after the age of 40
  • decreased muscle mass throughout the body
  • increased curvature in the hips and knees
  • narrower shoulders and hips
  • weight loss, which usually begins after 55 in men and after 65 in women
Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass) and increased curvature of the spine (kyphosis), should not be considered "normal" aging. These are, in fact, largely preventable. There are, however, many age-related changes that cannot be prevented.

However, certain lifestyle changes may help to reduce age-related changes. These include:

  • avoiding illicit drugs and excess alcohol intake
  • avoiding smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • eating a well-balanced diet, following the food guide pyramid
  • getting physical activity every day, including weight-bearing exercise
  • staying active mentally, socially, and emotionally
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