Growing up, I was always the smallest in my class at school. In fact, I can remember as if it was yesterday being labelled on the wall as the smallest, it was a great confidence boost to me, haha! I think I stopped growing when I hit 21. I now proudly stand at 5 foot nine inches and I’m happy with that. Maybe another couple of inches would’ve been nice but I guess every bloke would say that. I’m still talking about height guys! Let’s face it, you’re born that way and there’s nothing you can do about it. Or is there?
Of all the old wives’ tales that relate to improving and enhancing our physical appearance, the most wacky among them relate to gaining height. When it comes to the strategies lauded by our ancestors, most won’t hurt to try, but it’s sure unlikely any of them will result in any real height gain.
It’s estimated 60 to 80% of our height is determined by genetic factors, with the remaining 20 to 40% attributed to environmental effects, most notably nutrition. If we’re undernourished as children it can mean we fail to reach our inherited height potential (the height we’re genetically coded to reach). Once we reach adulthood, there’s little we can do to influence either of those factors.
Of course, there are surgical methods for increasing height, and that technology has come a long way. Plastic surgeon Dr Jean-Marc Guichet is a pioneer of limb lengthening surgery. His patented method of limb lengthening achieves height gain by inserting a rod inside the bone which can then be rotated mechanically over time, increasing its length. Another pioneering method of limb lengthening surgery relies on the work of remote-operated electromagnets to lengthen the limb.
Short of limb lengthening surgery (pun intended), here are some of the most common and craziest myths and methods for gaining height, and the real truth behind them.
Exercise yourself taller with limb-lengthening sport
It’s commonly believed that when you play sport, our muscles release human growth hormone, which helps us grow taller. Human growth hormone is a protein produced in the pituitary gland at the centre of the brain, which stimulates the growth of bone and cartilage in children and young people whose growth plates have not yet closed. It’s ability to effect any sort of limb lengthening in adults, however, is widely disputed.
There are some ways that doing sport can help you stand taller. As the muscles strengthen through exercise and training, you hold yourself more upright and appear to gain height. Sports that involve jumping, such as basketball and skipping, can encourage the calf muscles to grow and increase bone mass in the lower legs and hips. This can further help prevent the leg joints compressing as much when standing upright.
Swimming is another sport that’s usually given as an example of how we can grow. Swimming helps build muscle around the back and spine which prevents compression of the spinal discs between vertebrae when we stand. It also makes us less inclined to slouch and therefore does away with the bad habits that decrease our stature.
Stretch yourself taller with pilates and yoga
Some people advise that limb lengthening can be achieved through stretching. One of the first evolutionary thinkers, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, posited that over generations, the habit of giraffes continually reaching for the higher boughsproduced in their ancestors a lengthening of the legs and neck. Of course, that myth was dispelled by Darwinian theories nearly a century and a half ago.
There might however some truth to the theory in that pilates and yoga, which emphasise strengthening and stretching muscles, can correct posture problems by improving bone alignment and keeping your spine healthy. When the spine is straighter, and the muscles around it stronger, we hold ourselves more upright to the effect of around an inch.
The New York Daily News contacted experts for their thoughts on the claims that pilates helps increase height. Dr Karen Erickson, of the American Chiropractic Association, explained that it’s important not to confuse pilates making you taller with pilates helping you to grow as these are two different things. Chiropractor Dr Louis Peterson concurs, explaining that pilates have the ability to make you stand taller, but you will always still be the same height you always were.
Smooth out the creases with lengthening massage
Massage, or acupressure techniques, are sometimes lauded as ways to increase height or grow taller. Acupressure is applied the hands or feet in the hope of stimulating the pituitary gland to produce growth hormones, which as mentioned previously is disputed in it’s ability to generate a growth in adults.
Where massage encourages improved posture however, a perceived increase in height can be seen. Tight muscles around the neck, shoulders and back can cause us to slouch. If massage is able to release that tension, we can stand at our full stature.
It’s also thought that massaging the joints can increase blood flow and stimulate increased production of the fluid buffer within the joint that prevent the bones sitting so close to one another. With a greater volume of fluid between the joints, it might lengthen a limb by a couple of millimetres.
Put salt in your shoes and pray
Salt in His Shoes is the name of a short, semi-biographical novel written by Deloris and Roslyn M Jordan, the mother and sister of famed basketball star Michael Jordan, who stands tall at 6’5”.
As a child, Michael Jordan faced rejection and failure, almost giving up on his dreams because of fears he’d never grow tall enough to play the game that would make an icon of him. Complaining to his parents, the advice from his mother was this: “Go put salt in your shoesand pray.”
Now, that’s not to pretend for a moment that salting his shoes resulted in any limb lengthening. But the young Michael Jordan, believing he was taking proactive steps to secure his future success, sure boosted his self confidence. That might just be a determining factor in his success – oh, and a growth spurt too of course!
Whatever your reason for seeking to increase your height, it’s important to remember that it may not be the height gain itself you’re after, but the perceived psychological benefits of being tall. That, after all, is all in the mind. Still, if you’re looking to increase your confidence, positivity and self-esteem, practicing any of these myths for gaining height certainly won’t hurt.