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Changes in body shape with age: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

February 25, 2014 – 06:29 am

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The way your body naturally changes with age. Some of these changes can not be avoided, but their lifestyle choices can slow down or speed up the process.

The human body is composed of fat, lean tissue (muscles and organs), bones and water. After 30 years of age, people tend to lose lean tissue. The muscles, liver, kidneys and other organs may lose some of its cells. This process of muscle loss is called atrophy. The bones may lose some of their minerals and become less dense (a condition called osteopenia, or osteoporosis late stage). Tissue loss reduces the amount of water in the body.

The amount of body fat increases steadily after age 30 and can rise up to 30%. Fatty tissue accumulates towards the middle of the body, including around the internal organs. However, the fat layer beneath the skin (subcutaneous) becomes smaller.

The tendency to lose height occurs in all races and in both sexes. The height loss is related to aging changes in the bones, muscles and joints. People typically lose about 1 cm (0.4 inches) every 10 years after age 40. The loss of height is even faster after 70 years. You can lose a total of 1-3 inches in height as they age. You can help prevent the loss of height by eating a healthy diet, being physically active, as well as preventing and treating bone loss (osteoporosis).

Having less muscle in the legs and stiff joints can lead to shifting more difficult. Excess body fat and changes in body shape also affect balance, which leads to falls more likely.

Changes in total body weight for men and women vary. Men often gain weight until about age 55 and then begin to lose weight later in life. This may be related to a decrease in the male sex hormone testosterone. Women tend to gain weight until age 65 and then begin to fall. The weight loss in adulthood occurs in part because lean muscle tissue is replaced by fat. Habits with exercise and nutrition can play an important role in weight changes a person during his lifetime.

Your lifestyle choices affect the speed with which takes place the aging process. Some steps you can do to reduce body changes associated with aging are:

  • Exercising regularly.
  • Eating a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats optimal amounts.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid snuff products and illicit drugs.


Minaker KL. Common clinical sequelae of aging. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier, 2011: chap 24.

Shah K, Villareal DT. Obesity. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K. eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier. 2010, chap 83.

Updated: 11/16/2012

Version Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by ADAM Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang

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