Short height and long life have a direct connection in Japanese men, according to new research based on the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program (HHP) and the Kuakini Honolulu-Asia Aging Study (HAAS).
“We split people into two groups — those that were 5-foot-2 and shorter, and 5-4 and taller,” said Dr. Bradley Willcox, one of the investigators for the study and a Professor in the University of Hawaii (UH) John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Department of Geriatric Medicine. “The folks that were 5-2 and shorter lived the longest. The range was seen all the way across from being 5-foot tall to 6-foot tall. The taller you got, the shorter you lived.”
Researchers at the Kuakini Medical Center, the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine and U.S. Veterans Affairs worked on the study, which was recently published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The residents of Okinawa, an island off the coast of Japan, have historically had the longest life expectancy on earth — age 78 for men — and a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease and cancer. They also have the largest number of centenarians per capita. The average height of those who live to blow out 100 candles: 5 feet even.
Furthermore, most centenarians worldwide are shorter than 5-foot-5.
“Within nearly every species, smaller individuals live longer,” says Thomas Samaras, who runs Reventropy Associates in San Diego, a nonprofit that investigates the ramifications of a world population that’s constantly getting taller and heavier. Tiny dogs, cats, elephants, rats, bats . . . turns out they all live to become cantankerous old coots.
Short people develop cancer at lower rates than the tall, and a 2003 study published in the journal Life Sciences found that shorter people, on average, avoid many chronic diseases and have longer lives. Why? Our compact bodies just seem to function more efficiently: we have fewer cells, and thus fewer cells that can develop cancer; our lungs tend to work better than those of tall folks. And though some studies have reported that short people are more likely to develop heart disease, none of them have effectively established a cause-and-effect relationship.
Shorter people are less likely to get overheated or have the more serious condition called heatstroke. This is mainly because taller — and heavier — people make more body heat. If they make it faster than they can get rid of it, like during intense exercise, that can lead to heat stroke or heat exhaustion. On the flip side, taller people can stay warmer than shorter people in colder weather for the same reason.
Shorter people have:
- Faster reaction times
- A greater ability to accelerate body movements
- Stronger muscles in proportion to body weight
- Greater endurance and the ability to rotate the body faster
- Less likelihood of breaking bones when falling
As a result of these physical attributes, shorter people can excel as gymnasts, divers, skiers, martial artists, rock climbers, figure skaters, rodeo riders, soccer players and long-distance runners. Within their weight classes, they are also excellent wrestlers, boxers and weightlifters.
It’s not all good news for shorter guys.
A study of more than 22,000 men from seven countries showed that shorter guys have a greater chance of going bald. The scientists looked for changes in specific genes that can raise a man’s odds of losing his hair early. They found four that were linked to both male-pattern baldness and shorter stature.