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I am a healthy 57-year-old man, and the last time I checked my height, I found I was three centimeters shorter than when I was in college. Have I actually shrunk? What are the causes, and how can I prevent myself from getting even shorter? F.Z., Rishon Lezion
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich comments:
The December issue of the Harvard Health Letter deals with this issue. It explains that starting at about age 40, people typically lose almost a centimeter each decade. As we age, we experience decreases in everything from hair and hearing to memory and muscle, and height is also on the list. Fractures of the bones of the spine can contribute, as can slouching. For many people, losing a little bit of height doesn't cause any health problems. But severe kyphosis (being hunched over) sometimes affects breathing and causes neck and back pain.
What can you do to slow down shrinkage? Improve your posture by consciously standing up straight. Focus on exercises that will strengthen back muscles; one involves lying on your stomach and then lifting your head and shoulders. Yoga or tai chi are other options. Strengthen your bones by getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Stay active. Go to a doctor, who may refer you for a bone-density test to see if you have osteoporosis and need medication.
I am a 70-year-old male whose only enjoyable and least painful exercise is in the swimming pool, and this has been restricted to swimming on my back. I try to swim at least two or three times a week. However, being on my back for most of the time results in my ears being continuously submerged. The structure of my ear canals is such that I quickly accumulate wax which becomes compacted and very painful. I have been given two opposite types of advice: Use earplugs, which should prevent most of the water from getting into the ear or don't use earplugs, as wearing them only causes the wax to impact. Is there a correct solution? H.G., Petah Tikva
Prof. Yosef Elidan, head of the ear-nose-and-throat department of Hadassah University in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem, replies:
People who swim normally do not need earplugs. They can swim on their backs, with water getting into their ears, without any problem. However, there are people who cause harm to the outer part of their ears by cleaning the cerumen (wax) out with cotton swabs or sharp objects. This is unnecessary and harmful. The cerumen usually comes out by itself and does not have to be cleaned out. Using the sticks cause scratches on the delicate tissue leading to the eardrum, and when water reaches it, this causes inflammation and possibly infections. This is what causes pain. Thus, one should avoid using cotton swabs or other objects to clean ears.
You may be among the minority of people with a tendency for cerumen to accumulate and harden in their ears. If so, you should go to an ear-nose-and-throat specialist who can remove the wax safely every few months. This is done now with a microscope and a special suction device without water; previously, wax was cleaned out with a device that sprayed warm water into the ear, but the new device is preferable.
If you have a hole in your eardrum, however, you should stay out of the water altogether, as earplugs do not keep all the water out. Children, by the way, can also have accumulations of cerumen, but they usually don't complain. When we check them and find impaction, we clean out the wax to see inside the ear.
I am a 52-year-old man in general good health who had an inguinal hernia repair a few years ago. I sometimes feel discomfort in the area, especially when I exert myself a lot. I was wondering if there are any exercises I can do to strengthen the lower abdominal muscles so I will not need surgery again. M.J., Haifa
Dr. Naama Constantini, a veteran sports medicine expert in the orthopedic surgery department at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, says: First of all, you should go to a hernia expert to make sure you have had no recurrence. We generally do recommend exercises to middle-aged people to strengthen their lower abdominal muscles, but I must admit that I'm not aware of any good study that shows that they do decrease the incidence of hernia.
One good lower-abdominal exercise is to lie on the back with your hands along the body, one leg bent and standing on the floor and the other straight. Raise the straightened leg higher into the air. Repeat several times and then switch legs. If this is easy do the same with both legs up - just raise your buttocks from the ground. If you want other exercises, you should consult a physiotherapist.
Rx For Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx For Readers, the Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org, giving your initials, age and residence.