Many people are unhappy with their height.
But can anything be done about it?
If you have asked this question, you are not alone. Some claim good nutrition or special exercises can increase your height as an adult.
This article discusses whether it’s possible to increase your height after the age of 18.
Before discussing whether it’s possible to change your height as an adult, it’s important to consider what determines your height in the first place.
The easy answer is genetics, but that isn’t quite the whole story.
Studying twins is one way scientists determine the extent to which genetics affect body height ().
In general, height in twins is highly correlated. This means that if one twin is tall, the other is likely to be tall as well ().
Based on studies in twins, it’s estimated that 60–80% of the difference in height between people is due to genetics (, , ).
The other 20–40% is due to environmental factors like nutrition ().
Trends in height worldwide help demonstrate the importance of nutrition and lifestyle factors.
One enormous study including 18.6 million people reported changes in height over the last century.
The study found that in many countries, the average person was taller in 1996 than in 1896 ().
Improved nutritional intake in these countries may be the cause for this change.
Summary: Scientists estimate that differences in height are about 60–80% due to genetics and 20–40% due to environmental factors like nutrition. In many countries, average height has increased over the last century.
Even with a healthy diet, most people’s height won’t increase after age 18 to 20.
The graph below shows the rate of growth from birth to age 20. As you can see, the growth lines fall to zero between ages 18 and 20 (, ).
The reason why your height stops increasing is your bones, specifically your growth plates.
The growth plates, or epiphyseal plates, are areas of specialized cartilage near the end of your long bones.
Increases in height are primarily due to the lengthening of your long bones, as the growth plates are still active or “open.”
Near the end of puberty, hormonal changes cause the growth plates to harden or “close” and the lengthening of bones to stop ().
Growth plates close around age 16 in women and somewhere between ages 14 and 19 in men ().
Even though true growth of the long bones won’t occur in most adults, some slight daily variations in height are typical.
The cause of this variation throughout the day is the slight compression of the discs in your spine (, 12).
Daily activities impact the cartilage and fluid in your spine and cause slight reductions in height as the day progresses (, 12, ).
This loss of height during the day may be up to about half an inch (1.5 cm) (, , 16).
Some research has indicated that the height of the discs in your spine may continue to increase through young adulthood, but the impact on overall height is minimal ().
Summary: For most people, height will not increase after age 18 to 20 due to the closure of the growth plates in bones. Compression and decompression of the discs in your spine lead to small changes in height throughout the day.
A common height myth is that certain exercises or stretching techniques can make you grow taller.
Many people claim that activities like hanging, climbing, using an inversion table and swimming can increase your height.
Unfortunately, there is no good evidence to support these claims.
It is true that your height varies slightly throughout the day due to the compression and decompression of the cartilage discs in your spine (12).
By decompressing your discs, some of these activities could temporarily increase your height to a very small extent ().
However, this isn’t a real change in height, as any changes are quickly reversed (12, , ).
Summary: Exercises and techniques promising to increase your height as an adult are not supported by science. They may lead to small temporary changes in height, but these effects are not lasting.
Many people worry that exercise, especially weight lifting, can be detrimental to your height.
Some of this concern is specific to children and adolescents, whose growth plates haven’t closed.
The cartilage of the growth plates is weaker than the mature bone that forms during adulthood and could potentially become damaged more easily.
However, most research shows that weight training is safe and beneficial at all ages, as long as it’s appropriately supervised.
Moreover, studies have shown that weight training before adulthood does not decrease growth ().
Most sports medicine doctors and experts also agree that weight training does not need to be avoided in children and adolescents.
One study asked 500 sports medicine experts whether weight lifting should be avoided until a person’s growth plates close ().
85% of the experts said that it is not necessary to avoid weight lifting, and only 10% thought that it may be best to avoid weight training.
Additionally, other research shows that the primary concerns for weight training injuries are a lack of supervision or improper use of equipment (, ).
In adults, growth plates have closed and become stronger than during childhood. Because of this, the risk of growth plate damage is not a major concern.
Indeed, weight lifting can lead to minor compression of spinal discs in adults. However, this is reversible and also occurs during normal daily activities (, 16, , ).
One potential cause for concern is injuries like herniated discs.
In this case, the size and health of the discs in your spine can be compromised, and it is possible that a slight decrease in height could occur ().
Summary: With proper supervision and technique, weight lifting is safe for all ages. It does not seem to impair height before or during adulthood. However, disc injuries could possibly lead to small decreases in height.
Although you may not be able to change your height substantially as an adult, there are things you can do to maximize your height potential in your teenage years.
Overall, you want to be sure you are eating enough and that you aren’t deficient in any vitamins or minerals.
While many children eat enough (or even too much), diet quality is often poor ().
Because of this, many individuals in modern society are deficient in important nutrients like vitamin D and calcium (26).
These nutrients are very important for bone growth and overall health (, ).
Calcium from the diet alters hormone production in a way that benefits your bones. Vitamin D may also improve bone health (, ).
One great way to combat nutrient deficiencies and promote optimal bone growth is to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables (, 32).
Eating enough protein is also essential for bone health, although some people have questioned whether high protein intake can harm your bones.
However, a large analysis of 36 studies found that higher protein intake is not harmful to your bones. In fact, higher protein intake was beneficial for the bone density of the spine ().
One way to increase your protein intake is to try to consume at least 20 grams of protein each time you eat.
Good sources of protein include eggs, poultry, lean meats and dairy. Soy and other legumes are also high in protein.
While proper nutrition during childhood is essential for reaching your greatest height, there may be differences between men and women.
Some research has shown that environmental factors, such as nutrition, may play a larger role in height in women than men.
This may be partially due to differences in access to food and medical care or the higher rates of osteoporosis in women (34).
Other lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, could also benefit your height during development (35).
However, it is important to remember that while lifestyle factors during childhood can affect height, a person’s final height is still mostly due to genetics.
Summary: Eating enough and avoiding nutrient deficiencies during childhood and adolescence can help maximize your growth potential.
Although most adults won’t grow taller after age 18 to 20, there are exceptions to this rule.
If the growth plates remain open past age 18 to 20, which is uncommon, height could continue to increase.
Second, some suffer from gigantism. This condition causes excessive growth, often due to too much growth hormone (GH) production ().
However, these individuals typically only increase in height until their growth plates close around age 22 (39).
Furthermore, one form of hemochromatosis, a condition in which excessive iron is absorbed in the intestines, may also cause an increase in height (40).
In general, these conditions could increase height until the growth plates close.
Summary: Some rare medical conditions could lead to height increases after age 18, but this generally only occurs if the growth plates haven’t closed.
If you are an adult who is unsatisfied with your height, here are a few things you can try:
- Practice good posture: Poor posture can rob anyone of a few inches of height.
- Try heels or inserts: Choose shoes with taller heels or place inserts in your shoes to add up to a few inches of height.
- Gain muscle to look and feel stronger: If you feel small in general, lifting weights to gain muscle can make you more muscular and confident.
While these simple strategies may help, some people resort to more extreme measures, such as medical treatments or procedures.
Several of these procedures involve lengthening the bones of the lower leg (41, ).
However, due to the invasive and expensive nature of these operations, many do not choose such drastic measures. These procedures are even banned in some countries.
Others seek out treatment with growth hormone (GH). While GH can improve height in children who are not growing properly, benefits of this treatment in adults are unlikely (, 44).
Ultimately, finding a way to accept your height is recommended over considering more extreme measures.
Summary: There are some simple techniques you can try to make yourself look taller or help you feel better about your height. Some people resort to more invasive medical procedures.
Although you may not be able to increase your height as much as you would like, there are things you can do to help yourself accept your current height.
It’s helpful to realize that height isn’t everything.
You can be happy and successful regardless of your stature. In fact, there are many happy successful people throughout history who were short.
Although some people think that being short puts you at a psychological disadvantage, scientists debate whether this is true (, 46).
Researchers have also promoted the idea of using coping strategies and focusing on things other than height ().
Making a list of your best qualities, both physical and non-physical, may help improve your outlook.
Additionally, you could focus on other areas of self-improvement. Losing weight or gaining muscle may give you the extra boost of confidence you are looking for.
Summary: If you wish you were taller, the best thing you can do may be to learn to accept your current height. Focusing on your strengths and good qualities can help you with this process.
Height is largely determined by genetics, and most people will not grow taller after age 18.
However, proper nutrition during childhood and adolescence can help you maximize your height.
If you are unhappy with your height, you may want to consider some simple strategies to look and feel your best.
These may include having a good posture, wearing shoe inserts or heels or lifting weights to gain muscle.
What’s more, focusing on your strengths and other areas of self-improvement can move your focus off of your height.
Ultimately, you can’t change the hand you were dealt in life, but you can seek to make the most of it.