Though not quite as common an image as that of a little old lady, the mental picture of a stooped old man still readily comes to mind when you think of an older gentleman. But are all old men short or stooped? Is it hard to find a tall old man?
It is not hard to find a tall old man, though harder than finding a tall young man due to men’s shorter life span among other mortality issues. Because tall is dependent upon an area’s average height, the number of tall men is about the same as the number of short men.
In my investigation about ‘a tall old man’, I defined what’s meant by it; found what affects a man’s height as he ages past 40; ranked top ten tall countries and corresponding life expectancies; thought about problems a tall old man faces; and even listed some famous tall old men. I hope you find it as interesting as I did!
- What is meant by a tall old man?
- Reasons We Might Not See A Tall Old Man- Overview
- Tall (Old) Men Around The World-Ranked
- Problems Being A Tall Old Man
- Famous Tall Old Men
- The Takeaway About Finding A Tall Old Man
What is meant by a tall old man?
To get started, we need to define what is meant by ‘a tall old man.’ Whether it is for your children’s grandpas or yours we need to define it for our article based on standard expectations, and then we’ll see what that means in concrete terms.
A tall old man is defined by two characteristics being met: tall and old. Tall means at least two inches above the average for any area, whereas old is a person who is at least 65 years.
So keeping this in mind, we must acknowledge that there is no set measurement for tall because it is based off of the average or mean height for the area. Admittedly, there will an extreme that most everyone will recognize as tall no matter where a person lives, such as males that are 6’5″ and over.
In the US men are on average 5 feet 9 inches. This means a tall US male would need to be 2 inches more than that, which in this case, would put him at just below 6 feet in height. In Netherlands, though, he’d still be below average height, since the average male there is exactly 6 feet.
At first thinking, it might be taken for granted, then, that the number of tall young men in the US at 5’11″ would eventually turn into the same number of tall old men at 5’11”. But this isn’t the case because men’s height isn’t stagnate.
So as we look ahead, we’ll need to keep this in mind.
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Reasons We Might Not See A Tall Old Man- Overview
Even though tall old men exist, is there anything that can limit the amount of them overall?
Admittedly, it’s not hard to find a tall old man. However, there are certain reasons, from poor choices in early adulthood to elderly ailments, as well as genetics and life expectancy, that make it more of a challenge than finding tall young men, average old men, or women in general.
Let’s look at two particular reasons from the past, next:
- How the Great Depression affected the health of men (and women’s)
- How poor lifestyle choices can influence a man’s height later in life
And then we’ll consider some other factors affecting the presence of tall old men:
- Illnesses plaguing the old
- Life expectancy of men versus women
The Past Affects Being A Tall Old Man
The past can actually hinder a person’s height even past puberty. How can a tall man be affected by past events?
Past nutritional deficits and poor choices affecting one’s quality of life can reduce a man’s height after age 40. From historical events like the Great Depression that limited nutrition to bad practices like drinking and smoking, men’s height can be affected by several inches.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression was a time of starvation and struggle for Americans, which included today’s very elderly as it began in 1929. This book titled Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression (on Amazon) gives the first-person accounts of living during a time when money was scarce and food was hard to come by.
Foods that were particularly limited during the Great Depression:
- Fresh vegetables and fruit…and yes, that’s just about everything!
Frugal steps and unusual ingredients that were common during the Great Depression:
- Swiss chard and dandelions
- Stretching food with binders (like sawdust and lint) and water
During this time, nutritional needs were generally met for survival but not for optimal growth for those in their growing years. This means some people who lived then probably didn’t reach their maximum height potential, causing a reduction in tall (very) old men and women today.
Poor Lifestyle Choices
Poor choices in teen years and early adulthood actually have an impact on one’s health and height later on in life, too.
Smoking and drinking
For example, research tells us that those who smoke and/or drink alcohol regularly escalate their risk for height shrinkage past age 40. These practices cause a decrease in muscle mass (which we’ll look at again in another section) and increase in thinning bones during aging.
Likewise, bad diet leads to overall poor health due to lack of nutrients and vitamins your body needs. This sometimes doesn’t really become evident physically until ‘old age’ and by then, it’s often too late to ‘fix’.
Decades of poor posture also can impact height in old age. After years and years of not standing up straight and instead hunching over, a person can develop truly stooped posture than can’t be easily corrected.
This shows how a once tall young man can end up a short(er) old man.
In summary, some reasons a tall old man might be hard to find is that his height was affected by a poor early diet, whether it’s during childhood or throughout his early adult living, and/or bad choices like smoking and drinking too much causing a reduction in height.
Related articles I highly suggest:
- Why Is It Hard To Find A Tall Old Woman? (Explained)
- What Is Considered Tall For A Woman? (Explained)
- What Is Considered Tall For A Man? (Explained)
Other Factors (Obstacles) Affecting Tall Old Men
Experts tell us we lose 1/4 to an inch with every decade past age 40. So besides past events and practices, what other factors affect how many tall old men there are?
Other obstacles for tall old men are illnesses like osteoporosis and sarcopenia, as well as an overall lower life expectancy. Specific illnesses that plague the elderly cause stooped posture and diminished height. Also some research say tall men are particularly affected by a lower life expectancy.
Let’s look at osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and life expectancy for men.
Old Age Illnesses Affect Physical Height
Osteoporosis and sarcopenia are two illnesses affecting old age which are related to height.
Osteoporosis is mostly a women’s illness causing brittle bones which easily break and result in stooped shoulders and hunched back. Though 75% afflicted are women, this mean 25% of sufferers are old men. Anyone with osteoporosis has a diminished height of up to 3 inches often times (Source: Bone).
Sarcopenia affects skeletal system but also muscle mass. All adults will have some form of muscle loss due to sarcopenia. Extremes can result in several inches of height loss.
So what does this mean in regards to tall old men? Well, if an American man at 5’11”, considered tall, gets osteoporosis or experiences significant muscle loss from sarcopenia, then he may actually shrink to 5’8″, making him no longer tall by US standards.
Life Expectancy of Tall Old Men
Though we’ll look at life expectancy as it relates to tall men around the world in the next section, let’s consider how tall men in general are affected in regards to longevity of life.
Though US men have a shorter life expectancy than US women, men live longer now than decades before. While current CDC data tells us a US man has a life expectancy of 75.1 years, there is other research that says it’s even lower for tall men.
What does research say about mortality risks for tall people?
- It increases cancer risks and cancer-related death. (Source: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention)
- It increases cardiac problems and cardiac-connected deaths. (Source: Life Sciences)
- It causes more blood clot-related deaths. (Source: American Journal of Hematology)
Now being tall doesn’t automatically doom men to a shorter life. However, research is certainly significant enough to show tallness as contributing to overall shorter lifespan for men; and as such, tall young men should let this research inform a purposefully healthier lifestyle.
Tall (Old) Men Around The World-Ranked
It should be stated that at no point in history has life expectancy truly been better worldwide, but that’s not to say it’s excellent or even ideal everywhere. As of 2019, the human lifespan is 73 years of age, but let’s look closer at countries individually for a more informed view. (Source: United Nations).
In the US men have an expectancy to live around 75 years old, with women much longer at 81. Worldwide the life expectancy for males on the high end is 81.8 years for Switzerland to a low of 57 for Zimbabwe. (Source: CDC)
There is certainly a range in male life expectancy, but it’s improved for all. Let’s look at the tallest countries for males in the world, and how life span relates to that, especially given some implications research has drawn between tallness and mortality.
I’ve made a table to chart the top ten countries for male tallness showing their life expectancy as well.
As evident, it seems countries with tall averages also show life span for males on the higher end of the spectrum, with 5 out of 10 having a higher rate than US males despite taller averages.
So all in all, despite credible obstacles, my opening statement seems valid: it is not hard to find tall men around the world.
Problems Being A Tall Old Man
It’s common for men to wish they were taller (and even for parents to wish for taller sons). Nevertheless, even tall men will tell you it’s not perfect. For those who are much taller especially, let’s say above 6’4″, being tall can be quite problematic.
Some of the big issues facing the tallest men:
- Not being able to buy clothes off the rack: It may seem like a minor inconvenience but in reality, it is quite a problem to have to specially order clothes. From the simplest items like a pair of jeans to fancier attire for special occasions, the exceptionally tall man must not only plan ahead to get what he needs, but must also pay much more for his clothes.
- Health problems affecting back, neck, and even legs: Men above 6 feet in particular have physical aches and pains associated with tallness. And this not only affects the day-to-day quality of life, but also results in higher medical costs for taller men.
- Problems with regular items being too small for you: From personal vehicles to public transportation to ceilings to counter tops, the tall man can feel frustrated on a regular basis due to items not fitting him.
Famous Tall Old Men
Being tall, old, and famous requires three characteristics to be fulfilled, so it’s not as easy as one might think to come up with a list (though much easier than a list of famous tall old women in my experience). For instance, probably one of the first famous tall men who comes to mind is our 16th president, Mr. Abraham Lincoln.
At 6’4″, Abraham Lincoln holds the record for being the tallest US president. He’s famous, too. However, he died unexpectedly and too soon at age 56 as a result of being assassinated. So, he doesn’t make our list here, having not met the criteria of ‘old’ being used.
But another famous president does, and though tall by today’s standards and unusually tall during his lifetime, we don’t generally equate tallness with Mr. Washington.
Listed below is a random, diverse list of tall old men, using the standard mentioned above in this article, that is, “men at 6 feet tall or over and having met at least 65 years of age”.
Tall Old(er) Men Born Prior to 1956:
- First President, George Washington, died at age 67, and was 6’2″ tall.
- Film director and actor Clint Eastwood is 6’4″ and was born in 1930.
- Actor Harrison Ford stands 6 feet 1 inch tall and was born in 1942.
- Former NBA player Stanley “Whitey” von Nieda was born in 1922 and stands 6’1″.
- Founder of the band Boston, Tom Scholz was born in 1947 and is 6’5″.
- Guitarist for rock band, Whitesnake, Adrian Vandenberg stands 6’6″ and was born in 1954.
- Football great Joe Namath stands 6 feet 2 inches (though stooped a bit now) and was born in 1943.
- Former bodybuilder/Mr. America Lou Ferrigno stands 6’5″ and was born in 1951.
- 45th President Donald Trump, Sr is 6’3″ tall and was born in 1946.
- Actor Samuel L. Jackson is 6ft 2in tall and was born in 1948.
The Takeaway About Finding A Tall Old Man
The takeaway from reading this article is to remember that tallness is strongly connected to average height for the area. Once you know the average, you simply add 2 inches in order to ascertain what’s considered tall.
Tall old men do exist, and in actuality, are not hard to find at all-though it is contrary to our preconceived, perpetuated notions.
Albeit it is also true that the male life span is shorter than female’s and there are some specific issues that seem to target tallness in old men, making the number of tall old men less than tall young men, average old men, and women in general.
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